On Friday, the parliament passed the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020, eight months after it was first tabled. The bill, which will become law once approved by the Senate, aims to protect and raise alert when a child goes missing or is abducted. Under the new law, a Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) will be set up. The director general of the Agency will be appointed by the prime minister. It will be tasked to maintain a database of missing and abducted children, and work closely with the helpline, 1099, which will forward all reported cases to the Agency.
-In case a child is reported missing, the ZARRA will activate alerts across the federal capital. Information, such as the child’s physical characteristics, habits, clothes ect, will be send to all relevant law enforcement agencies and the public at large. In coordinate with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, messages will generated to all service providers regarding the child. Also the information will be sent to all electronic and print media as well as radio stations to disseminate. helpline, 1099, will be set up to help the public report a missing or abducted child or any information related to a missing child. ZARRA will also issue monthly public reports and updates on its website about missing children.
The Agency will set up a mobile application where the public can access all data related to missing and abducted children. In addition, a Child Protection Advisory Board will be established to ensure ZARRA is effectively preforming its functions from the registration of a FIR to the safe recovery of a child and the referral for rehabilitation. The police station, where a case of missing or abducted child is reported shall, immediately, within two hours, inform ZARRA. The bill also prescribes punishment for police officers who are do not comply, or hinder the process of reporting a missing child. The maximum sentence to a perpetrator will be life imprisonment and the minimum sentence will be 10 years.
The law provides maximum punishment for child abuse and killing, and a fine of Rs1 million. People are no doubt likely to raise eyebrows upon the absence of the death penalty in this law. The fact of the matter is that the execution of the rapist and murderer of Zainab Ansari could not stem the tide of child abuse in nearby town of Chunian, where another serial rapist raped and killed four other children within a month of the execution of Zainab’s killer. The real solution is strict implementation of laws regarding child abuse and changing the minds of the people. The Zainab Alert Bill provides several innovative measures, such as the creation of an agency to issue alerts for missing children and take strict action against police officials who cause unnecessary delay.
The passage of the bill alone will not eradicate the ill. Society must be made aware of the presence of paedophiles in neighbourhoods and in this regard Peshawar police’s measure to make the credentials of convicts of sex crime public is appropriate. Also, the Human Rights Ministry should launch a Child Protection Campaign to raise awareness about pornography at school level across Pakistan. One possibility that needs examination by all those who want to prevent sexual abuse of children is the preparation of a national register of sex offenders, which will be provided not just to police stations, but also to schools and other places where children gather. Such a register will be an important first step in identifying offenders. There should also be a requirement for offenders to undergo some form of treatment, for it should be accepted that abusers often need treatment, not just punishment.