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March 7, 2021

Federal govt put on notice over failure to implement Zainab Alert law

Karachi

March 7, 2021

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the federal government, ministry of human rights director and others to file comments on a petition seeking a direction to the federal government to establish the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency and implement the law to deal with child rape and kidnapping cases.

Petitioner Naeem Sadiq submitted in the petition that the federal government had failed to implement the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency Act (ZARRA Act) by not setting up the agency to deal with the child kidnapping and sexual assault cases.

He submitted that after the brutal kidnapping and rape incident of seven-year-old Zainab in Kasur, the federal and provincial governments had agreed upon setting up a unified emergency response helpline number for all kind of emergencies in which citizens could report kidnapping or disappearance of children.

The counsel for the petitioner, Salahuddin Ahmed, submitted that the ZARRA Act was promulgated in 2020 and despite the lapse of a year, no agency had been set up nor any director general had been appointed under the law.

He submitted that all of the functions of the ZARRA Act remained unperformed whilst crimes against children continued to rise on a daily basis. He said that the absence of efforts on part of the respondents had enabled child abusers to do as they pleased because they happened to get away with their crimes due to a disorganised system.

The SHC was informed that several helpline services were being operated in the provinces and it was impossible to recall the appropriate number in time of need and hence, it was necessary that the provincial and federal governments established a unified and nationwide emergency helpline number that was linked to the law enforcement agencies, fire department and ambulance services.

The counsel submitted that the shortcoming on the part of the federal and provincial governments regarding the activation of the ZARRA Act and their failure to form a database where information regarding the missing children was to be maintained had violated the fundamental rights of the citizens, especially the right to information under the Article 19-A as the database had to be made available to the public under the ZARRA Act.

The high court was requested to direct the federal government to notify and establish the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency under the relevant law and make the law operational in its true letter and spirit.

The petitioner also requested the SHC to direct the relevant authorities to frame the rules and appoint necessary staff as well as to establish a single three-digit nationwide emergency helpline which should maintain the complete log of received calls and have a mechanism to response on emergency calls.

A division bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar directed a federal law officer and ministry of human rights director to file comments on the petition by March 19.