ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee on Thursday deferred the passage of Zainab Alert Bill 2019 with directions to the government to rationalise the ‘extreme’ punishment proposed for sexual assault against children.

However, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights passed drafts of four other bills with proposed recommendations.

“Drafts of the four bills thoroughly discussed by the subcommittee stand passed. The Zainab Alert Act will also be passed in a day or two after the government accommodates recommendations from the members,” said committee Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

All members of the committee, except a few, opposed rigorous imprisonment until death for sexual assault of children.

While PPP MNA Shazia Marri described it ‘extreme’, former senator of the party Farhatullah Babar called it ‘frightening’.

Even Secretary Ministry of Human Rights Rabiya Javeri Agha believed the punishment was too harsh.

Nonetheless, the drafts of the National Commission on Status of Women (Amendment) Bill 2018, the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill 2018 of the government, the Daycare Centres Act 2019 and the Protection against Harassment in Workplace 2019 discussed clause by clause by the subcommittee headed by PPP MNA Dr Mahreen Razzaq Bhutto were approved by the main committee.

After the meeting, a few members believed that rigorous imprisonment with death sentence was a fitting punishment for individuals sexually assaulting two, three and four-year-old children.

“The Zainab Alert Bill is a special bill and thus the special punishment,” said one of the members.

While terms such as rape and missing etc., have been clearly been defined in the Zainab Alert Bill, the draft bill for persons with disabilities proposes better facilities in public and private buildings.

The committee which met to discuss proposed amendments to the bills concerning persons with disabilities and protection of children commenced with condemnation of violations of human rights by Indian forces in the Indian occupied Kashmir and the arrest of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz.

Responding to questions after the meeting, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari described the arrest of Maryam Nawaz a wrong message at the wrong time.

“As chairman of the human rights committee, I consider the arrest of Maryam Nawaz an abuse of her rights and condemn this political victimisation,” he said.

“The nation should have taken a joint position to condemn Indian atrocities in the occupied Kashmir. Instead our government decided to commit human rights abuses by arresting members of the opposition. This weakens the position of Pakistan,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2019