Children whose families say have been abused, turn their backs to the camera while they are interviewed by a Reuters correspondent in their village of Husain Khan Wala, Punjab province, Pakistan August 9, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
Parents at the centre of a growing child abuse scandal in Pakistan accused police on Monday of failing to do enough to break up a paedophile ring in Punjab province, the prime minister's political heartland.
Villagers in the central Punjabi village of Husain Khan Wala told Reuters that a prominent family there has for years forced children to perform sex acts on video. The footage was sold or used to blackmail their impoverished families.
Rubina Bibi says her 13-year-old son was a victim, but when she tried to file a report at the Ganda Singh Wala police station a month and a half ago, "the police station clerk told me to get lost and I was thrown out".
"My son is in the videos, he is a victim," she said. "Our children were forced into this. They were humiliated. But the police are treating them like criminals."
Another mother, Shakila Bibi, said: "I went to the police station to file a complaint, but instead of registering a (report), they took my son into custody."
Her 15-year-old son is still in jail, she said.
If an inquiry found inadequate police work or complicity, the scandal could engulf the provincial government, headed by the brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
District Police Officer Rai Babar said the force would act decisively.
"I assure you that we are taking this very seriously and there will be a fair and very transparent investigation," he told Reuters.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a statement saying "all attempts made to suppress or twist the information, and there have been many, should be strongly condemned and must also be probed."
On Sunday, Sharif said in a statement: "The culprits will be given the harshest possible punishment."
Lawyer Latif Sra, representing some of the victims, said: "I have personally met hundreds of parents who have not yet come forward to file official complaints, either out of fear or shame."
Police have arrested seven suspects, but downplayed the scale of the abuse, suggesting a land dispute may have sparked accusations.
"It's a very murky situation," said Babar. He added that seven cases involving 11 children had been registered.
Activist Mobeen Ghaznavi said he had 130 video clips containing abuse.
"People are afraid. They are being threatened and intimidated," he said.
Suraiya Bibi said the abusers threatened her family when she complained to police.
"One day some women in the village showed me these videos. My son was in them. My world collapsed," she said.
"Kids were being intimidated in these videos with weapons, they were drugged. Kids as young as five years old were made to perform oral sex."
In one clip seen by Reuters, a boy cowers and cries before putting his hands over the camera lens. In another, a groggy boy is beaten and abused as a man tells him: "I will not stop until you smile."
Three 15-year-old boys told Reuters they were abused for several years. Two said they were threatened with weapons that included a knife, an axe and a gun.
"He threatened me if I did not compromise, he would kill me on the spot," one said.
One 18-year-old told Reuters he had been abused since he was 10. He stole cash and jewellery from his family after his abusers blackmailed him, he said.
"I was going to school one day when these boys picked me up and beat me up badly. Then they drugged me, and when I woke up, they showed me these videos they had made of me," he said.
"They told me that they would bury me alive if I told anyone ... I thought about killing myself every single day."