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October 18, 2020

Zainab alert

Editorial

 
October 18, 2020

Following the abduction of Zainab Ansari in January 2018, there has been an increase in attention to the issue of missing children, and then those who have been abducted and raped. According to child welfare NGO Sahil, eight children are raped each day in the country. And in the first six months of 2020, 38 have been murdered – usually following rape. This is an unacceptable number.

A new 'app' has been launched by the government with the father of Zainab Ansari inaugurating it. The Zainab Alert app is designed to alert district police officers immediately when a child goes missing and is connected to 36 police stations in Punjab, 33 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 50 in Sindh. Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari and Minister for Planning Asad Umar were present at the launch of the App, which Dr. Mazari said could not be misused. Dr Mazari has also promised further mechanisms to help protect children. At the current moment, police are often extremely reluctant to register an FIR involving a missing child because they want to keep the crime rate low in their area and also are aware that searching for a missing child is a time consuming and onerous process. The new app could help make us more aware of what needs to be done and help parents.

A helpline run by the human rights ministry for missing children will continue but the fact is that in the past despite new measures, we have not been able to bring down the rate of children who go missing in the country. Some, of course, have run away from their homes, but others have been abducted or lured through mostly financial inducements. The situation is an unacceptable one. Why should our country have such a high rate of child abduction and rape? Why are our children not safe? Dr. Mazari has promised further steps. One of these would be to start a registry of child sexual offenders or others who have in any way molested or threatened a child. This would warn people in neighbourhoods about their presence, as happens in some countries. In others their name is simply kept on record and they are hauled in by the police any time a child goes missing in their area. It is important that we are able to protect our children. Our failure so far has brought us a great deal of issues and simply shown how unsafe children are in a society which should be geared up to protect them from predators. This protection must be class-blind because the most vulnerable are those children that are either on the streets or some from financially vulnerable families.