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January 17, 2020

After Zainab

Editorial

 
January 17, 2020

Most of us remember the story of seven-year old Zainab Ansari, the rape and murder victim, whose body was found in Kasur in 2018. Her murderer has since been hanged, but the memory of the horrific crime lives on. The reality that hundreds of children suffer sexual abuse each year in the country is also one we have become familiar with. The National Assembly in June last year had taken up the Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill 2019 tabled by Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari. The bill was passed on Friday after many months of debate on what punishment should be awarded to a child rapist and murderer. Some called for the death penalty, some for life imprisonment and some for a combination of both. Eventually, it was agreed under the bill passed on Friday that sexual abuse would carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment with a fine of Rs1 million.

For now, the law will apply only to the federal territory including Islamabad. The provincial assemblies will need to pass the law in their own legislatures. Ideally this should not take long. The bill, which has now been passed onto a Senate Committee, also states a helpline is to be established to report missing children, while an agency for issuing an alert for missing children will also be set up. There have been complaints from parents that the police often react extremely slowly to complaints of possible abduction. A short while ago a little boy was found dead in the house of his cousins in Islamabad after being abducted, apparently to extract ransom. His parents have complained that the police failed to take the matter seriously and the child was found dead days later. They are also multiple other cases of child abuse. A man who has been held for child sexual abuse in Britain and Italy and had links with international pornographic groups operating over the ‘dark net’ was held last year in Rawalpindi. Astonishingly, he had been able to find work with an agency engaged in actions to protect children. In 2015, a major child sex racket was uncovered in Kasur. At the time the Zainab Ansari case broke out 12 other such incidents within the radius of the same city had been reported over the period of one year.

The new bill requires in-depth investigation of all cases involving the kidnapping, rape or murder of children. Once it is passed, it is hoped the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency will be set up to streamline efforts to find the thousands of children who go missing each year in the country and that the mechanisms for implementing the law will be put in place quickly. There is no time to wait.