ISLAMABAD: The Nat­ional Assembly passed on Friday a significant resolution seeking an “exemplary punishment” of public hanging for people convicted of sexually abusing and killing children.

Although the resolution was passed with a majority vote, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and two cabinet members — Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry and Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari — opposed the resolution and termed it “unacceptable” in any civilised society.

The hand-written resolution was moved by six MNAs, including Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, Maulana Akbar Chitrali and Ijaz Shah, in the wake of a recent murder of an eight-year-old boy in Nowshera.

The issue was raised by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, who criticised the government for not paying any heed to the tragic incident. She said the body was abused more than 100 times and the DNA of his Madressah [seminary] teacher had matched.

Resolution passed with majority vote in house demands that those who sexually abuse and then kill children be executed in public

The resolution said: “This house strongly condemns the brutal killing of 8-year-old Iwaz Noor in Nowshera and demands that to stop these shameful and brutal killings of children and give a strong deterrence effect, the killers and rapists should not only be given death penalty by hanging but they should be hanged publically.”

Ali Mohammad Khan, who tabled the resolution, said the issue was also brought to the notice of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights, headed by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, but he [Bilawal] had opposed the provision of death sentence in such cases. “If our children’s life is unsafe, why should we care about international NGOs? Our religion Islam also directs us for Qisas [equal punishment],” he added.

He said had Mr Bhutto-Zardari passed the bill calling for public hanging, the house would not have been compelled to pass such resolution.

Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP said public hanging was not acceptable in “our or in any other society”. He was of the opinion that ramping up the severity of punishments did not result in a reduction in child abuse cases. Reminding the members of parliament that Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said public hanging violated the laws of the United Nations.

Mr Ashraf’s assertion was seconded by Fawad Chaudhry and Shireen Mazari, though they were not present in the house when the resolution was passed.

Mr Chaudhry said in a tweet: “This is just another grave act in line with brutal civilisation practices. Societies act in a balanced way. Barbarism is not the answer to crimes [...] this is another expression of extremism.”

Ms Mazari tried to distance the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) from the resolution and said it was “not government-sponsored but an individual act”. “Many of us oppose it — our MOHR (Ministry of Human Rights) strongly opposes this. Unfortunately, I was in a meeting and wasn’t able to go to NA,” she said in a post on Twitter.

The session was presided over by Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri.

AI, HRCP reaction

According to a report released by child rights organisation Sahil in September last year, 1,304 cases of sexual abuse of children were reported by the media from January to June 2019, showing at least seven children were abused every day.

With the issue continuing to remain widely prevalent, the government has been criticised for not taking any concrete measures to address flaws in the investigation system or implementation of relevant laws.

The Amnesty International and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have also expressed displeasure over the passage of the resolution.

Amnesty International’s South Asia deputy director Omar Waraich said: “The sexual abuse and murder of children are among the most horrific crimes, but the death penalty is not a solution. Public hangings are acts of unconscionable cruelty and have no place in a rights-respecting society.

“The authorities must focus their energies on giving children in Pakistan the protection they desperately need through strong safeguarding policies and procedures before abuse happens, enforcing laws against sexual abuse, and holding the perpetrators of abuse against them to account through fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.”

He added: “Executions, whether public or private, do not deliver justice. They are acts of vengeance and there is no evidence that they serve as a uniquely effective deterrent. If human life holds then highest value, then taking it away is lowest act. The state should not perpetuate the cycle of violence by putting people to death.”

The HRCP said it was perturbed at the National Assembly’s resolution calling for child sexual abusers to be hanged publicly. “This contravenes Pakistan’s international human rights obligations and brutalises society further. Calling for public hangings does not absolve the state of its responsibility to protect children from abuse and violence. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that public hangings will deter perpetrators,” it said in a statement on Twitter.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2020