Public executions: a bad idea

Updated 09 Feb 2020

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IN an apparent response to ghastly cases of child sexual assault in the country — including the recent brutal killing of an eight-year-old in Nowshera — the National Assembly on Friday passed a resolution with a majority vote calling for publicly hanging those found guilty of sexually abusing and murdering minors.

Although PTI ministers Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry later condemned the resolution and opposed its passage, it was approved by lawmakers across all parties, with the exception of the PPP.

In an attempt to justify its passing, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, who tabled the resolution, asked the PPP: “If our children’s life is unsafe, why should we care about international NGOs?”

It would serve Mr Khan well to know that there is a reason that the death penalty is considered the ultimate cruel and inhuman punishment.

This paper has time and again stated its opposition to the death penalty for the simple fact that, apart from being an inhuman penalty, it does not deliver justice. There is also no evidence that executions act as a deterrent or lower the rate of crime.

Although National Assembly resolutions have no legal effect, they signal the mentality and mood of the lawmakers in parliament.

No doubt, incidents of child abuse must be unequivocally and strongly condemned, but a resolution of this nature is by no means a practical step towards solving the problem. Not only is this resolution high on rhetoric, it also signals the extent to which our society has become brutalised.

Our lawmakers have utterly failed to consider the psychological effects such an act would have on the public. Instead of passing an inhumane resolution that does nothing to accord greater state protection to our children, Pakistan’s lawmakers should fulfil their obligations and enact legislation that strengthens law-enforcement agencies and builds their capacity to successfully prosecute criminals.

The focus should be on what can be done by police and investigating agencies to dismantle child trafficking gangs and strengthen prosecution.

One example of turning outrage into action is the effort the Assembly made to pass the Zainab Alert Bill, which among other things aims to establish a helpline for missing children, set up a Child Protection Advisory Board and take action against police officials who delay investigations.

Therefore, passing a resolution in favour of public executions which defy humanity and logic is a half-hearted attempt at solving a grave problem. There are many gaps in the system where lawmakers can act instead of simply reacting through a resolution.

Through their strongly worded statements denouncing the move, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have correctly pointed out that public executions have no place in a rights-respecting society, nor do they absolve the state of its responsibility to guarantee protection to children. 

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020