The National Assembly on Friday approved the Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill, 2019, exactly two years after the body of nine-year-old Zainab Ansari, a rape-murder victim, was found in Kasur in 2018.
The bill was presented by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari in June last year.
Zainab’s rape and murder in 2018 had sparked outrage and protests across the country after she was found dead in a trash heap in Kasur on January 9. Her case was the twelfth such incident to occur within a 10 kilometre radius in the city over a 12-month period.
In August 2019, a parliamentary committee deferred the passage of Zainab Alert Bill with directions to the government to rationalise the “extreme” punishment proposed for sexual assault against children.
All members of the committee, except a few, had opposed rigorous imprisonment until death for sexual assault of children. Others had said that rigorous imprisonment with a death sentence was a fitting punishment for individuals sexually assaulting minor children.
Under the bill passed on Friday, the maximum sentence handed down to perpetrators of child sexual abuse will be life imprisonment with a fine of Rs1 million while the minimum sentence will be 10 years.
Further, a helpline will also be established to report missing children while an agency, for issuing an alert for missing children, will also be set up.
The bill also proposes taking action against police officials who cause unnecessary delay in investigating such cases, adding that those who fail to respond to the alert within two hours may also face action. However, according to the bill, the measures introduced only extend to the Islamabad Capital Territory. This is because the National Assembly’s powers are limited as the bill involves the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Code of Procedures.Therefore, the bill will have to be taken up in the provincial assemblies in order to be implemented at a provincial level.
Speaking during the session, Federal Planning, Development and Reforms Minister Asad Umar said that all cases involving the kidnapping, rape and murder of minor children will be required to complete investigations within three months.