A judicial inquiry into a grand child abuse extortion scandal will begin following the order of Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, on Sunday.
A gang of 24 men have reportedly filmed themselves sexually abusing at least 280 children, most of which were aged under 14, and used the recordings to blackmail their parents by threatening to leak the videos if they did not pay up.
There are more than 400 videos made in the Hussain Khanwala village, southwest of Lahore, in the last 8 years, according to local media.
“Around 300 videos of the kids have been leaked and every second child in this village is a victim,” said a legal activist.
Sharif ordered an independent judicial probe into the child abuse scandal which has sparked the outrage of rights activists and local media.
In his statement, Punjab’s chief minister had ordered “the judicial inquiry into [the] incident,” further demanding that those involved in the case “be punished” and the affected families “be provided with justice at any cost.”
The case is “the largest child abuse scandal in Pakistan’s history” according to chief of the Punjab province’s Child Protection Bureau, Saba Sadiq.
Local authorities rejected the allegations and said they were “baseless,” consequently prompting a response from rights activists and media. They said the authorities who were looking into the case were biased.
Parents of the abused children carried out protests earlier in the week, in Kasur, near Lahore, after authorities reportedly failed to prosecute the criminals.
In the clashes at the protests, over 20 people were injured as police used force on the some 400 protesters.
The gang reportedly threatened families with the tapes, asking for 40 Pakistani rupees (39 cents) for each clip.
“They made the video of my son in 2011 and we have been paying the blackmailers since then,” said one mother of a victim to AFP reporters.
“I have seen the videos, they are disgusting.”
Another distraught mother expressed that her son was terrified after his video was leaked online after years of sexual abuse.
Local authorities, however, are more skeptical regarding the allegations, and do not regard them to be credible.
“This is a very old incident and those posing as victims are cashing in on the issue to settle a land dispute,” said Police Chief, Shahzad Sultan.
“We made announcements through mosques when we came to know about the incident and arrested eight people. The incidents stopped there.”
Pakistan is often marred by child abuse or murder cases, and Pakistanis are concerned over the growing cases along with unfair trials in the country’s judiciary.
In the past week, Shafqat Hussain was executed in Pakistan after he was found guilty of killing a 7-year-old child in 2004. His last words were, “I never even touched the boy -- I want to let the world know this as I lay down my life.”