Provinces urged to adopt Zainab Alert Bill

Updated 14 Jan 2020

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The civil society representatives lauded the passage of a child protection bill, Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), by the National Assembly on Jan 10. — File
The civil society representatives lauded the passage of a child protection bill, Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), by the National Assembly on Jan 10. — File

LAHORE: The civil society representatives lauded the passage of a child protection bill, Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), by the National Assembly on Jan 10.

The bill was passed two years after minor Zainab Ansari was found raped and murdered in Kasur. Zainab was the eighth victim in a series of similar killings of minor girls in Kasur.

The Zainab Alert Bill lists some stringent measures and punishments for the perpetrators as well the police officers who cause hindrance to the provision of justice in any way.

It also states that under the law, the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) will be set up. The director general of the agency will be appointed by the prime minister and it will be tasked with maintaining a database of missing and abducted children and work closely with the helpline, 1099, which will forward all reported cases to the agency.

The rights’ organisations have urged for all provincial assemblies to adopt the bill, which is now only applicable in the Islamabad territory. They also suggest that some amendments be made before the bill is presented in the provinces.

Rights activist Samson Salamat suggested to the government to have uniformity in dealing with child abuse incidents across the country. He expressed concerns about the ambiguity in the bill, saying it had used the word ‘alert’ which should be clearly defined. He said perhaps the bill should be titled as the Child Protection Bill, which would include many other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

“It is very important for the government to make sure that a one-window facility is introduced to register a missing child complaint to help the people get away from going to from one department to another,” he said.

“We shall continue raising our voice against child sexual abuse to attract the attention of the government functionaries and all stakeholders for proper legislation and effective implantation mechanism,” Mr Salamat expressed his resolve.

Iftikhar Mubarik, the executive director Search for Justice, said the bill should definitely be adopted by the provinces but the real challenge, even after passing of the law through Senate, would be establishing the ZARRA Agency and ensuring human resource and a working budget.

“Some measures are practically not right, such as speedy wrapping up of a case which might result in wrong answers. Police may get the wrong person in their quest for wrapping up the case. But hopefully, there would be SOPs adopted to prevent this from happening.”

Mr Mubarik said that it was generally seen that the laws like this were based on knee-jerk reactions and in fact preventive policies should be brought forward.

“We need more awareness campaigns where teachers and families are trained, about violence and sexual abuse,” he said.

“Most missing and runaway children do so because of domestic violence, etc,” he added.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2020