Exactly two years after the brutal rape and murder of minor girl Zainab Ansari, a heart-wrenching incident that shook our conscience and caused a massive uproar, the National Assembly has passed the Zainab Alert bill for missing children and minor victims of sexual abuse.
The bill was first tabled by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari in July last year, but the mandatory death sentence for sexual assault was considered too harsh by several members of the parliamentary committee and the bill was eventually deferred. Others considered the death penalty as a befitting punishment for such heinous acts.
The maximum sentence handed down to perpetrators of sexual abuse will now be life imprisonment with a fine of one million rupees while the minimum punishment has been set at ten years. A helpline has been established to report missing children and an agency to issue an alert for missing children will also be set up.
In case a child goes missing, an alert will be activated and information such as the child’s physical characteristics will be sent to law enforcement agencies, local media, and the general public. The bill also proposes action against police officials who cause hindrances in investigating such cases or fail to respond to the alert within two hours.
The bill is only applicable in the federal capital for now and will have to be passed by provincial assemblies. It is imperative that the lawmakers pass the bill swiftly as it is their responsibility to protect minor children. Despite the obstacles and delays, it must be appreciated that the legislation has been passed and should be implemented effectively.
Pakistan faced global condemnation over repeated reports emerged about sexual abuse of children. The town of Kasur, once famed for its Sufi shrines, has become infamous for such incidents. At least thirteen such cases had emerged and were brushed aside before Zainab went missing. The incident spiraled out of control leading to riots and a political crisis.
The pressure on lawmakers and institutions moved them closer to protect children. Zainab’s case showed politicians that people are willing and able to demand change. The national fury eventually had an impact as more cases came into the limelight and our hidden shame was finally exposed. Many people increasingly came forward to report that their child had been abused. The Zainab Alert bill is an indication that some action has finally been taken to protect children.
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