The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights raised seven legal objections over the Zainab Alert Bill on Wednesday and advised the relevant National Assembly committee to make further amendments before tabling it in the Senate.
The Senate panel raised the objections despite Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari's insistence that the bill be passed as soon as possible as it had been under consideration in the National Assembly's human rights committee for eight months.
PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who chairs the Senate panel on human rights, said that the committee had highlighted legal shortcomings in the proposed bill.
In its recommendations, the panel said that the offences of child trafficking, kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping to gain property — both moveable and immoveable — should also be included in the bill.
Furthermore, the committee said that the sentence for slavery, kidnapping for ransom and torture should be different from the punishment for rape and murder. The panel also recommended that sections of Pakistan Penal Code and Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act should be made applicable in the proposed bill.
The term "child under eighteen years of age" be replaced with "child", the panel said.
The committee pointed out that the bill only applies to the Islamabad Capital Territory, while noting that it has definitions of crimes and proposes punishments, which would make it a criminal law.
The panel recommended that the bill should either eliminate crime and punishment or be implemented across the country.
Khokhar said that the next meeting of the panel will be held on January 20 where the proposed amendments will be discussed.
The Zainab Alert Bill, which addresses sexual crimes against children and proposes sentences for such offences, was passed by the National Assembly but was blocked in the Senate after PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan insisted that the bill be sent to the Senate committee.
The bill only extends to the Islamabad Capital Territory because the National Assembly’s powers are limited as the bill involves the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Code of Procedures.
Therefore, the bill will have to be taken up separately in each of the provincial assemblies in order to be implemented at the provincial level.
Zainab Alert Bill
The bill — named after nine-year-old Zainab Ansari, who was murdered after being raped in Kasur in 2018 — was tabled by Mazari in June last year after multiple cases of horrific crimes against children emerged, mainly from Kasur.
In 2015, Kasur’s Hussain Khanwala village had attracted worldwide attention when a child pornography ring was busted. Hundreds of video clips had emerged showing a gang forcing dozens of minor boys and girls to perform sexual acts and filming them. The gang had also used the videos to blackmail families of the children and extorted millions in cash and jewellery from them.
In 2018, Zainab's rape and murder had sparked outrage and protests across the country after she was found dead in a trash heap in Kasur on January 9.
Her case was the twelfth such incident to occur within a 10-kilometre radius in the city over a 12-month period.
The heinous nature of the crime had seen immediate riots break out in Kasur — in which two people were killed — while #JusticeforZainab became a rallying cry for an end to violence against children.
Last year, once again, the Punjab district came into the limelight after police in September found remains of three minor boys who they suspected were murdered after being sexually assaulted.
At the time, Mazari had said it was "shocking to see continuing stories of child abuse victims surfacing in Kasur".
In a series of tweets, she had said the government's Zainab Alert Bill has been pending with the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights chaired by PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari "for months now".
Mazari had said her ministry had written to the standing committee to forward the bill to the NA but it had not been done so far, describing the situation as "frustrating procedures of unnecessary delays in human rights non-political legislation".