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ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee on Wednesday cleared three bills calling for the protection of juvenile offenders, increasing punishments for child pornography and abuse and for the interests of street children.

The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights discussed the Juvenile Justice System Bill, 2018 first. The bill focuses on the disposal of cases through diversion and social integration of juvenile offenders.

“It focuses on processing juveniles by sending them to community services instead of sending them to jail that houses [hardened] criminals,” said Secretary Ministry of Human Rights Rabiya Javeri Agha.

The bills call for protection of juvenile offenders, increasing punishment for child pornography, protecting interests of street children

She told the committee that the establishment of special juvenile courts was one of the prime focuses of the bill. The special courts will deal with cases of juveniles of less than 16 years of age with serious offences and those of 18-year-olds with minor offences.

She said the aim is to send young offenders to rehabilitation centres instead of housing them with hardened criminals and to give them an education, industrial and technical training and to cater to their mental, moral and psychological development.

The bill was passed by the National Assembly in Feb this year and was introduced in Senate last month.

The committee also approved the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018 which calls for increasing punishments and fines for those involved in child pornography.

The punishment for child pornographers was increased from two years imprisonment that could be extended up to seven years to 14 years in jail and the fine was increased from Rs200,000 to Rs1 million.

Likewise, punishment for child abusers was extended from seven to 14 years and the financial penalty was increased from Rs500,000 to Rs1 million.

National Party Senator Mohammad Tahir Bizenjo argued that increased punishments will not solve the problem.

“It is important to first address issues that cause people to commit such heinous crimes,” he said.

Committee chairman, PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokar said the idea was to increase deterrence against such offences.

The committee also cleared the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Bill, 2018 which was drafted in consultation with relevant stakeholders. The bill provides for the protection and care of all children including unattended orphans.

It calls for the formation of a child protection board and child protection institutions, granting licences to alternate child care centres, the establishment of a welfare fund for children and the registration of unattended children, to mention a few.

The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was also cleared with the hope that the institution would finally become effective.

The committee was told that the funds have not been utilised since 1996.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Dr Mehar Taj Roghani said she was shocked to hear that the Rs70 million sitting fund was never disbursed to those in need in the last 22 years.

According to a senior official, one of the reasons the fund was ineffective was that its 19 board members have not met the last many years.

“It was hard to bring all the board members together which is why the ministry seeks to reduce the number of board to nine,” he said.

The committee directed the Ministry of Human Rights to ensure the fund became operational soon.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2018