The upper house of parliament passed a bill on Friday criminalising for the first time in Pakistan sexual assault against minors, child pornography and trafficking.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2015 also raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to 10 years of age. The amendment to the Pakistan Penal Code will go into force after being ratified by the president.
Under the proposed legislation, sexual assaults would be punishable by up to seven years in prison. Child pornography, which was not even mentioned in Pakistani laws, will be punishable by seven years imprisonment and a fine of Rs700,000. Previously, only rape was criminalised.
Aimed at protecting children from cruel treatment, the bill was tabled in the house by Human Rights Minister Zahid Hamid, seeking to amend the Pakistan Penal Code of 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898.
The statement and objects of the bill state that amendments have been proposed while keeping in mind the international obligations and domestic realities.
Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990 and is under obligation to implement its provisions by harmonising policies, legislations, programmes, plans of action and report the progress to the Geneva-based UN Committee on the Rights of the Child every five years.
To undertake this task, existing laws are to be brought in line with the UNCRC’s to effectively initiate requisite actions for meeting the standards set forth under the convention.
The salient features of the proposed act include raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility and the upper age limit from 12 years to 14 years; protection of children from cruel treatment; and criminalising child pornography. The act of exposing children to obscene material has also been criminalised. The law will also provide punishment for trafficking of humans within Pakistan.
The provisions provided in the criminal law earlier fail to cover a number of serious offences against the person or a child like child pornography, exposure to seduction, abuse, cruelty to a child and human trafficking within Pakistan.
Last August, a major paedophilia scandal in the Kasur district of Punjab shocked the whole nation when hundreds of pornographic videos of children from a village were circulated in public.
Around 20 people were arrested but only the acts of rape and sodomy were punishable by law.
The Senate also launched the annual report of the 13th parliamentary year titled “Report to the People of Pakistan” with the details of the business of the house from March 12, 2015 to March 11, 2016.
Under Rule 257, the Senate secretary is supposed to prepare a full report of the proceedings every sitting from this year onwards. At the end of every year, an annual report will be published.
For the purpose of record, the secretary clarified the report circulated contained data only up to the 125th session. The ongoing session, which will conclude today, will not be included.
Sixteen sessions were held during the parliamentary year with two joint sittings. The total number of working days was 131 whereas the Constitution has a limit of 110 for the Senate.
During this session, the Senate has passed six bills. The total number of bills passed now stands at 39 with 21 from the government bills and 18 private members’ bills.
While over 2,500 question notices were received, about 2,000 of them were admitted. But only 97 of these have been disallowed mostly on technical grounds relating to two or more ministries.
A total of 70 resolutions were passed during the year. The report this time contains data on which resolutions the government acted, which are under process and the others for which further directions are required.
In the meantime, the Senate also received 1,112 public petitions. Under the guests of parliament programme, the upper house hosted 42 schools, colleges and universities not just from Islamabad but also other parts of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2016.