Senate passes Zainab Alert Bill 2020

Maximum sentence to perpetrators of child sexual abuse will be life imprisonment with a fine of Rs1 million


APP March 04, 2020
A girl holds up a picture of Zainab Ansaril who was raped and murdered in Kasur, during a protest in Islamabad January 11, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Wednesday passed the Zainab Alert Recovery and Response Bill, 2020 aimed at raising alert, response and recovery of missing and abducted children and would pave way for conducting trials of child abduction cases in anti-terrorism courts established under the ATA 1997.

The bill against the child sexual abuse is passed two years after the brutal rape and murder of nine-year-old Zainab Ansari in Kasur shook the nation’s collective conscience in 2018.

The horrific incident had drawn a countrywide outrage and raised questions over the safety of children and responsibilities on the part of the authorities concerned to prevent increasing incidents of child abuse in the country.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati moved the motion under Rule 263 for immediate consideration of the bill by dispensing the rules.

The upper house passed the bill after a brief discussion and considered it as reported by the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights.

The bill will raise the required alerts and initiate the responses required for recovery of missing, abducted, abused or kidnapped children in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). It will help to provide speedy system for alerts, responses, recoveries, investigations, trails and rehabilitation to prevent and curb criminal activities against the children.

Zainab Alert Bill’s ambit being expanded all over country

It will also ensure harmonisation and cohesion in the workings of the new agencies and institutions established for the protection of children and already exacting mechanisms within this field.

According to the bill, the maximum sentence handed down to perpetrators of child sexual abuse will be life imprisonment with a fine of Rs1 million while the minimum sentence will be 10 years.

It also paved way for the creation of Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), which will be headed by its director general who will be appointed by the prime minister in such manner and in such terms and conditions as may be prescribed the rules.

The bill also demands that the management staff of ZARRA should be suitably equipped with skills of managing databases, conducting planning and monitoring of programmes, analysing data, preparing reports and coordinating with all other officers.

It suggested that ZARRA shall work closely with the helpline 1099 or such other helpline operating under the mandate of the division concerned. In this regard, the helpline shall forward complaints relevant to the mandate of ZARRA, which shall be acted upon in partnership between ZARAA and the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) established under the National Commission on the Rights of Child Act, 2017.

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The bill also proposed taking action against police officials who cause unnecessary delay in investigating such cases, adding that those who fail to respond to the alert within two hours may also face action.

Local police and concerned law enforcement agencies shall on receipt of information would take an immediate action and launch investigation, search, rescue and recovery operations.

ZARRA shall, wherever required, coordinate the efforts of the concerned police stations and other federal and provincial agencies, authorities or departments.

Upon receiving information that a child is missing, the officer in charge of a police station shall reduce the same into writing in the same book and in the same manner as prescribed for a cognisable offence under section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and shall be under a duty to cause investigation of the same and recover the missing child and also ensure that the required information in Schedule A to this AC, is made part of the complaint.

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