ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee on Wednesday raised several legal objections to provisions in the ‘Zainab Alert’ bill, demanding the definition of certain terms, the removal of repetition and replacing terminology.

The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights said the statement ‘a person under the age of 18 years’ should be replaced with ‘a child’ wherever it occurs in the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019.

Committee chair PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokharexplained that they sought the change because the word ‘child’ is defined as anyone under the age of 18, but the word ‘person’ is not.

The committee met to study the bill and discuss possible improvements. The bill, which was drafted by the Ministry of Human Rights, is named after Zainab Ansari, a six-year-old who was raped and murdered in Kasur in 2018.

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari pressed the committee to pass the bill quickly, but members highlighted seven legal shortcomings that they felt needed amending.

Shortcomings will be discussed at next functional committee meeting on Jan 20

The committee recommended that child trafficking, kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping to gain property offences should be included in the bill.

Members also argued that the sentences for slavery, kidnapping for ransom and torture should be dissimilar from the punishments for rape and murder. Senators said the bill should include electronic crime offencesand Pakistan Penal Code application as well.

The committee pointed out that the bill only applies to the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) while noting that it has definitions of crimes and proposes punishments, making it a criminal law. Members also recommended that the bill should either eliminate crimes and punishments or be implemented across the country.

The definition of ‘abduction’, which includes kidnapping and abduction, should also include trafficking as defined in the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, they added.

The Zainab Alert bill addresses sexual crimes against children and proposes severe punishments for such offences. It was passed by the National Assembly, but PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan insisted that the bill be sent to a Senate committee for further scrutiny.

The committee will meet again on Jan 20 to discuss the proposed amendments. The National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights already debated the bill for eight months.

If passed by Senate, those convicted under the lawwould be sentenced to life in prison and a fine of Rs1 million as the maximum punishment.

A helpline for missing children would also be established, along with a Child Protection Advisory Board, and police officials who delay investigations – such as in the Farishta case, when a police station refused to register a case for days after the 10-year-old went missing – would face action.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020