How DNA analysis is putting a new face on crime solving in Pakistan

There is still a pressing need for collaboration between government agencies and crime analysis experts to join forces and uncover the truth behind these unsolved crimes.

By Fawad Kaiser

The rape and murder of Zainab Ansari and Asma shocked the country. There were no witnesses to the murder, and the DNA on their bodies matched one of the suspects. It is a hope how new forensic technique might help solve the cold cases.

Child abduction in the Pakistan continues to reach astronomically high numbers. Even with advanced technology to help solve cold cases in kidnappings, there is still a pressing need for collaboration between government agencies and crime analysis experts to join forces and uncover the truth behind these unsolved crimes. According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 1,582 rape cases were reported in 2016, more than twice the year before, with child rape cases rising by 10%.

Since the beginning of 2018, there has been a marked upsurge in the reporting of sexual abuse cases across Pakistan. Statistics released by KP Child Protection and Welfare Commission shows that at least 222 cases of sexual abuse against children were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) between May 2011 and December 2017.Whether you study forensic anthropology or are an expert detective, all forensic specialists can help play a role in solving cold cases, such as those categorized in kidnappings.

Zainab killer case illustrates the extent of partnerships between the Forensic Science Agency and other law enforcement agencies. Advances in forensics are giving us an unprecedented ability to solve cases—and exposing mistakes in some investigation. Behavioral Analysis and criminal profiling points with an analytical mind, a keen understanding of psychology and human behavior, and a lot of experience working cases.

Currently few forensic laboratories are available for DNA profiling in Pakistan such as National Forensic Science Agency, Punjab Forensic Science Agency and Centre for Applied Molecular Biology (CAMB) DNA Forensic Laboratory. Efficient and well-functioning Forensic DNA laboratories are necessary in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, Balochistan, FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan to overcome crimes and terrorism. Developing a national DNA database with DNA profiling and linking with currently available biometric based computerized National Identity Card (NIC) system to search out criminals and terrorist will help counter terrorism and police department in the investigations of criminals. This forensic laboratory has 14 different forensic disciplines, including DNA and serology, toxicology, pathology, forensic photography, computer forensics, narcotics, death scene investigation, crime scene investigation, trace chemistry, firearms and tool marks, latent prints, questioned documents, polygraph and audiovisual. The government of the Punjab should also think of collaboration with forensic psychiatrists and get their support for strengthening and development of the laboratory.

It is time for a complete overhaul of forensic science. Creating a National Institute of Forensic Sciences, for example will make substantive changes. Another progress is that judges, who are the gatekeepers of the courts, continue to admit questionable forensic evidence—including finger print DNA analysis. As long as such testimony continues to be admitted in court, there is little incentive for forensics experts that judges are actually taking seriously the need to establish validity, to have a known forensic science. The judiciary has largely put a stamp on this.

DNA phenotyping and behavioural analysis is regularly applied in crime scene investigations and some critics question how useful it will be. The facial composites it produces are predictions from genetics, not photographs. Many aspects of a person’s appearance are not encoded in DNA and thus can never be unearthed from it, like whether someone has a beard, or dyed hair. Nevertheless, Parabon, which calls its facial composite service Snapshot, has had more than 40 law enforcement organizations as customers. Human genome pioneer Craig Venter, as part of his new personalized health company called Human Longevity, is also investigating facial reconstruction from DNA, as are many academic labs.

Meanwhile other high-tech forensic methods are coming on the scene. CT scanners allow doctors to perform virtual autopsies, peering into bodies for signs of murder undetected by standard autopsies. Researchers are studying whether bacteria on corpses can provide a more accurate clock to gauge when death occurred. And they are even investigating whether criminals might be identified not just by the DNA left at a crime scene but also by the microbial signature of the bacteria they leave behind.

There can be so many gaps and flaws in DNA profiling and while traditional forensic techniques are also facing scrutiny in some challenging criminal cases, does a new science-based one such as DNA phenotyping offer more hope, or another source of uncertainty?

It is 30 years since DNA fingerprinting was first used in a police investigation. The technique has since put millions of criminals behind bars – and it all began when one scientist stumbled on the idea in a failed experiment

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