Thursday Mar 05, 2020
ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Wednesday approved by a majority the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020 with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) lawmakers voting against it and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) senators recommending amendments to the bill.
The legislation has been named after Zainab, a seven-year-old who was kidnapped from her home in Kasur, raped and killed in 2018. The draft law will have its outreach across Pakistan, previously, it was confined to Islamabad.
JI’s senators Siraj-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed voted against the bill, stating that the bill does not contain a provision for a death sentence.
“A section on Qisas [eye for an eye] should be added,” Ahmed said, adding that sections 201 and 302 will make the bill more effective.
Haq echoed Ahmed’s sentiments and said in the past few months, over 3,000 children had been raped. “The bill needs Sections 201 and 302. Without Qisas, we will not vote in favour of the bill and will stage a walkout."
Backing the JI senators, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam's (JUI-F) Molvi Faiz Muhammad said, “The Islamic law already has Qisas as punishment for rape and murder."
State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan suggested JI to propose the amendments and assured them of government's support in this regard.
Khan further said Prime Minister Imran Khan had given directions for the Act to be adopted by the Senate during meetings of the Federal Cabinet, stating that that the accused involved in the rape of children, should be awarded death sentence.
The state minister added that the National Assembly had already adopted the resolution for public hanging of the convict, however, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had opposed it. “It is a matter related to our children’s life and honour, an amendment should be introduced,” he remarked.
Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani told the JI legislators if they wanted changes in the bill, they should have submitted them in the Senate Secretariat. Sanjrani added that that the bill should be adopted at the moment with amendments being made to it afterwards.
Agreeing with the chairman, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood requested the senators should vote on the bill, noting that the bill had already been debated in the National Assembly and then in the Senate. He, however, acknowledged that some of the points raised by the opposition had merit, but the entire nation was looking forward to the bill being passed.
Mehmood added that the bill should be passed and amendments should be made to it later. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf lawmaker Faisal Javed and Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Azam Swati echoed Mehmood’s sentiments and said the amendments would keep coming, however, it was crucial to adopt the bill right now.
Though the majority of the PML-N lawmakers agreed that that the Zainab Alert Bill was good legislation, there was no need to immediately approve it.
PML-N Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi said that a report regarding the bill was presented in the House only a day earlier and some clauses needed to be reviewed and explained. “Clauses suggesting punishment of life imprisonment mandated for a criminal who abducted a child for the purpose of sexual assault and murder was not enough and should be increased,” he said.
Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights Chairman and PPP Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar proposed the police should lodge a first information report (FIR) on the child’s abduction within two hours of the happening.
"Special courts should hear the case and announce decisions within three months," the PPP lawmaker added.
As per the bill, a helpline will be set up to report missing children while the government will establish the Zainab Alert, the Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) to issue an alert for a missing child.
The agency will coordinate with all relevant federal and provincial authorities and law enforcement agencies, and maintain an online database of all children reported missing or abducted with their current status.
The police will inform ZARRA about an incident of a child missing or abducted within two hours of receiving such a report and if the agency directly receives information of a child missing or having been abducted, it will inform the relevant police station immediately.
According to the bill, upon receiving information that a child is missing, the officer in charge of the police station will reduce the same into writing in the same manner as prescribed for a cognisable offence under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and will be mandated to start an investigation of the case and recover the missing child.
The provisions of CrPC will apply to the proceedings carried out under the Zainab Alert Bill, except in case of juvenile suspects who will be dealt with under the Juvenile Justice System Act, 2018.
In coordination with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), messages will be generated to all service providers regarding the child. The information will be sent to all electronic and print media as well as radio stations to disseminate. In the case of a child’s disappearance, the police will have to immediately file a first information report (FIR).
If the officials do not cooperate and fail to register an FIR, the responsible official will be slapped with a fine of Rs100,000 and sentenced to prison for two years.
Originally published in The News