ISLAMABAD: The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights raised seven legal objections over the Zainab Alert Bill on Wednesday and advised the relevant National Assembly committee to make further amendments before tabling it in the Senate.
The Senate panel raised the objections despite Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari’s insistence that the bill be passed as soon as possible as it had been under consideration in the National Assembly’s human rights committee for eight months.
PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who chairs the Senate panel on human rights, said that the committee had highlighted legal shortcomings in the proposed bill.
In its recommendations, the panel said that the offenses of child trafficking, kidnapping for ransom and kidnapping to gain property — both moveable and immoveable — should also be included in the bill.
Furthermore, the committee said that the sentence for slavery, kidnapping for ransom and torture should be different from the punishment for rape and murder. The panel also recommended that sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Act should be made applicable in the proposed bill.
The term “child under eighteen years of age” be replaced with “child”, the panel said.
The committee pointed out that the bill only applies to the Islamabad Capital Territory while noting that it has definitions of crimes and proposes punishments, which would make it a criminal law.
The panel recommended that the bill should either eliminate crime and punishment or be implemented across the country.
Khokhar said that the next meeting of the panel will be held on January 20 where the proposed amendments will be discussed.
ZAINAB ALERT BILL:
The Zainab Alert Bill, which addresses sexual crimes against children and proposes sentences for such offenses, was passed by the National Assembly but was blocked in the Senate after PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan insisted that the bill be sent to the Senate committee.
The bill only extends to the Islamabad Capital Territory because the National Assembly’s powers are limited as the bill involves the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Code of Procedures.
Therefore, the bill will have to be taken up separately in each of the provincial assemblies in order to be implemented at the provincial level.
The bill – which was passed in the Lowe House exactly two years after the body of nine-year-old Zainab Ansari, a rape-murder victim, was found in Kasur in 2018 – was presented by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari in June last year.
Zainab’s rape and murder in 2018 had sparked outrage and protests across the country after she was found dead in a trash heap in Kasur on Jan 9, 2018. Her case was the twelfth such incident to occur within a 10-kilometer radius in the city over a 12-month period.
In August 2019, a parliamentary committee deferred the passage of Zainab Alert Bill with directions to the government to rationalise the “extreme” punishment proposed for sexual assault against children.
All members of the committee, except a few, had opposed rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault of children. Others had said that rigorous imprisonment with a death sentence was a fitting punishment for individuals sexually assaulting minor children.
Under the bill passed on Friday, 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.