Senate panel okays proposal to extend Zainab Alert Bill's jurisdiction to entire country

Updated 17 Feb 2020

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Pakistani students light candles during a protest rally to condemn the rape and killing of Zainab Ansari, an 8-year-old girl, last week in Kasur on  January 11, 2018, in Lahore, Pakistan. — AP/File
Pakistani students light candles during a protest rally to condemn the rape and killing of Zainab Ansari, an 8-year-old girl, last week in Kasur on January 11, 2018, in Lahore, Pakistan. — AP/File

The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Monday approved an amendment in the Zainab Alert Bill, which called for expanding the jurisdiction of the proposed law to the entire country. The bill previously only applied to Islamabad.

PPP Senator Quratulain Marri had objected to the amendment, saying expanding the jurisdiction of the bill to the entire country would be a violation of the 18th Amendment.

The committee further decided that the Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), which will be set up once the bill has been passed, will not have the responsibility to launch an investigation or recover missing children. ZARRA will have the authority to coordinate and facilitate concerned agencies and departments.

The body empowered by the bill will be supposed to alert concerned authorities after receiving complaints and collect data. The participants agreed that it would be the police's job to recover missing children and conduct investigations.

Police will be bound to file a first information report as soon as they receive a report of a missing child and present a challan within 14 days. The police will also be bound to keep the missing child's parents informed of the developments of the case.

The Senate panel further said that any police officer who fails to file an FIR immediately after receiving a complaint would be sentenced to prison for up to two years, in addition to a fine of Rs50,000-100,000. The concerned police officer can also be fired, the panel declared.

The Zainab Alert Bill, which addresses sexual crimes against children and proposes sentences for such offences, was passed by the National Assembly in January but was blocked in the Senate after PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan insisted that the bill be sent to the Senate committee first.

Earlier, the bill only extended 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 would have had to be taken up separately in each of the provincial assemblies in order to be implemented at the provincial level.

The approval comes a day after another horrific case of child abuse emerged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Hangu district. Yesterday, police recovered a body of an eight-year-old — who, police suspect, was raped before being killed — from bushes in Saro Khel village.

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".

The bill was finally passed by the lower house in January, only to be blocked in the Senate.