Serial killer caught at last
After a hectic two-week manhunt, eight-year-old Zainab’s killer has been caught at last. The extraordinary effort was prompted by public outrage at the brutal rape and murder of an innocent child as well as the fact that it was the seventh such case in her home town of Kasur in recent days that had so far gone undetected. Now with the collaboration of all the law enforcing agencies, security outfits and civil and military intelligence, the DNA tests of 1,150 men aged 24 to 45 yielded a match of 24 year old Imran Ali with not only Zainab’s but all the other cases too. The perpetrator therefore emerges as a serial rapist and killer, two victims having survived the ordeal. While the Punjab government and all the agencies involved deserve to be commended for their relatively prompt and efficient cracking of the case, its aftermath has raised some important questions. For one, while the crimes of Ali Imran are truly horrible and deserving of punishment to the full extent of the law, an almost universal hysteria has gripped our political leaders and society at large. Hence the blood curdling calls for public hanging of the accused on the debatable argument that he should be made an example of to deter similar crimes in future. One analysis argues that the public hanging of the killer of a child in 1981 by the Zia dictatorship had deterred such crimes for a decade. But a closer examination of the argument reveals that reporting of such crimes was not evident during that period. That does not necessarily mean such crimes were deterred or disappeared from society. Had that been the case, the plethora of recent reports regarding child sexual abuse and murder would not have exposed the dark underbelly of such crimes countrywide. All our governments and law enforcement authorities are in the habit of responding in ‘emergency’ mode when a particular incident grips the public imagination and then, when the immediate furore has passed and the issue becomes a victim of short public memory, the authorities return to their somnolent inefficient pattern. After all, as the evidence from Kasur, Quetta, Mardan, Lahore and many other places throughout the country indicates, there is a virtual rash of such crimes taking place continuously under our very noses. Knee-jerk responses to public outrage may yield immediate results, as in the case of poor Zainab, but they are no substitute for the steps needed to deal with what appears to be a deep-rooted problem in our society.
A children’s sex abuse ring was uncovered in the very same Kasur in 2015. The case fizzled out, no perpetrators were punished, and the inefficiency of our police and justice system must have encouraged other offenders. In any case, there is no evidence that such disturbed perpetrators are deterred by fear of punishment, whether according to the law or extraordinary (and brutal) methods such as public hanging. The tendency is to go overboard whenever such an incident occurs without thinking through the implications and the real task at hand. Since it now is established that children’s sexual exploitation, abuse and murder are a widespread problem in our society (in which it is not alone), it behoves us to think coolly and clearly how to deal with the instant case and the hidden iceberg of such crimes below the surface. Children need to be educated on the threat to their wellbeing and life from relatives, neighbours and family friends, categories likely to yield the vast majority of abusers/killers. The temptation, as exhibited by the Senate Standing Committee on Interior the other day to not only demand Imran Ali’s public hanging but amendments in the law to prescribe such punishment for all child abusers/killers betrays more emotion and less wisdom than is expected from the upper house. The answer lies not in adopting the vigilantism of the street in our legislatures and laws, but to formulate child education and reform in our policing and judicial institutions to ensure perpetrators are brought to book, but according to the law, seeking justice, not social revenge.