ISLAMABAD: The Senate passed on Friday a bill that criminalises sexual assault against minors and child pornography and trafficking.

The amendment to the penal code, which will come into force after being ratified by the president, also increased the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 10 years.

Under the legislation, sexual assault will be punishable by up to seven years in prison. Previously, only rape was criminalised.

Child pornography, which was previously not mentioned in the law, will be punishable by seven years in prison and a fine of Rs700,000.

The amendment also criminalises child trafficking within the country. Previously, traffickers were only liable to punishment if they removed children from the country.

The country was rocked in August last year by a major paedophilia scandal when it was revealed that hundreds of pornographic videos of children from the village of Hussain Khanwala in Punjab had been created and were being circulated.

About 20 arrests were made, but only the acts of rape and sodomy were punishable by law.

“This is a very important step to realise the obligations of Pakistan” under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Sara Coleman, chief of child protection at Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, told AFP.

Valerie Khan, director of Group Development Pakistan, a local NGO which advocates legal reforms, called for a national commission on child rights to monitor and coordinate the implementation of the law

The statement of objects of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2015, said Pakistan had ratified the UN convention in 1990 and was under obligation to implement its provision by harmonising national policies, legislation, programmes and plans of action with it. The progress in this regard has to be reported every year to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.

The provisions in the existing criminal law statutes failed to cover a number of very serious offences against a child like pornography, exposure to seduction, sexual abuse, cruelty and trafficking within the country.

The amendments to the penal code and Code of Criminal Procedure had been proposed while keeping in mind the international obligations and domestic realities, it said.

Under the new law, the act of exposing children to obscene and sexually explicit material has also been criminalised with punishment.—AFP/APP

The bill was moved by Human Rights Minister Zahid Hamid.

Meanwhile, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani referred a bill to amend the National University of Sciences and Technology Act, 1997 to the standing committee concerned.—AFP

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2016

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