Senate passes Zainab Alert Bill 2019 despite objections from opposition lawmakers

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Wednesday passed the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill, 2019, paving the way for the child protection legislation to become a law more than two years after the body of nine-year-old Zainab Ansari, a rape-murder victim, was found in Kasur in 2018.

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The gory incident had sparked outrage in the country and raised questions over the security of children and responsibilities on the part of the authorities concerned to prevent increasing incidents of child abuse in Pakistan.

The was presented for approval in the upper house by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati and was passed despite objections to some of its provisions by opposition lawmakers.

The bill, which will have jurisdiction across the country after becoming a law, was already passed by the National Assembly in January this year.

As per the draft then presented in the NA, the maximum punishment under the bill for child abuse and killing is life imprisonment with a fine of Rs1 million, as the proposal of death penalty was rejected by an NA committee. The minimum sentence will be 10 years.

A helpline will be established to report missing children while an agency will be created to issue an alert for a missing child.

PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who heads the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights, informed the house that the committee had held 7-8 meetings to discuss the Zainab Alert bill and made some amendments to it.

He said under existing laws, police often refuse to register a First Information Report when a child is reported missing by his or her parents. This leads to the wastage of crucial initial time after the child’s disappearance.

But under the bill’s provisions, police will be bound to register an FIR within two hours of a child being reported missing by their parents. Police officials failing to comply with this provision will be punished with an imprisonment of two years and a fine of Rs100,000.

According to the bill, which Khokhar said now covers all crimes against children, special courts will be bound to decide child sexual abuse cases within three months.

He said the committee was ready to incorporate further changes based on proposals by lawmakers to improve the bill.

Zainab was abducted, raped and murdered in 2018 and her body was found in a garbage dump in Kasur on January 9. It was the twelfth such incident to occur within a 10-kilometre radius in the city over a 12-month period.

Later, serial rapist Imran Ali, who had killed Zainab, was arrested and hanged till death in October 2018.

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