ISLAMABAD: Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Qibla Ayaz has stressed the need for legislation entailing strict punishment in cases of child abuse and kidnapping, as speakers highlighted the multi-dimensional nature of the issue.

Speaking at a seminar titled “Addressing the plight of missing children and the corresponding legal framework in Pakistan”, the CII chief said that political instability and social discord created space for “evil forces in society to easily commit various crimes, including child abductions and serial abuse”.

Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said the issue of missing children and child abuse could not be resolved by any single institution as only collective wisdom and collaboration could be the effective remedy. He said that the diverse professional and social background of the speakers highlights the multi-dimensional nature of the issue.

Director General of Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) Dr Jahanzeb Khan said that the agency was mandated to issue alerts when a report for a missing child is made through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). He informed the audience that law enforcement agencies were responsible for immediately lodging FIRs for missing children and also notifying ZARRA.

Activist says most missing children belong to working class

He highlighted that the law-enforcement agencies notified 2,271 cases out of which 1411 children were recovered. He maintained that the protection of children was a shared responsibility and that progress in these domains was not possible without collective efforts.

Dr Syed Kaleem Imam, former federal secretary, stressed the need to address the root cause of the issue and ensure the safety of children.

Addressing the underlying psychological and social causes behind such predatory behaviour is crucial, he said, adding that strengthening of law enforcement agencies must go hand in hand with scaling up individual responsibility.

He also suggested the sensitisation and capacity building of law enforcement personnel, especially women police officers.

Dr Tabassum Naz, a Federal Directorate of Education director, stressed the need for preventative measures. “We need to identify the weak links and address the root causes,” she said, adding that a proactive approach could save the children from such mishaps. She pointed out that our society being male-dominant, was more relaxed about the security of boys, which was contributing to the higher prevalence of missing reports among boys.

Roshni Helpline 1138 Executive Director Muhammad Ali shared that Roshni Helpline assisted over 20,000 families and successfully recovered more than 9,600 children.

In 2023, he said, their helpline received 2,633 cases, with 658 families still awaiting the return of their loved ones. Notably, 70 per cent of the cases reported in the last five years involved boys, and children aged between 11 to 17.

He said according to their findings about 99 per cent of the missing children hailed from from the working class.

He also highlighted the challenges faced by the Roshni helpline, including a lack of awareness about ZARRA Act 2020, which significantly contributed to the safety, security, recovery, and rehabilitation of missing children.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2024

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