The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Monday approved an amendment in the Zainab Alert Bill, which called for expanding the jurisdiction of the proposed law to the entire country. The bill previously only applied to Islamabad. PPP Senator Quratulain Marri had objected to the amendment, saying expanding the jurisdiction of the bill to the entire country would be a violation of the 18th Amendment.
The committee further decided that the Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), which will be set up once the bill has been passed, will not have the responsibility to launch an investigation or recover missing children. ZARRA will have the authority to coordinate and facilitate concerned agencies and departments.
The body empowered by the bill will be supposed to alert concerned authorities after receiving complaints and collect data. The participants agreed that it would be the police’s job to recover missing children and conduct investigations. Police will be bound to file a first information report as soon as they receive a report of a missing child and present a challan within 14 days. The police will also be bound to keep the missing child’s parents informed of the developments of the case.
The Senate panel further said that any police officer who fails to file an FIR immediately after receiving a complaint would be sentenced to prison for up to two years, in addition to a fine of Rs50,000-100,000. The concerned police officer can also be fired, the panel declared.
The Zainab Alert Bill, which addresses sexual crimes against children and proposes sentences for such offences, was passed by the National Assembly in January but was blocked in the Senate after PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan insisted that the bill be sent to the Senate committee first.
Earlier, the bill only extended to the Islamabad Capital Territory 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 would have had to be taken up separately in each of the provincial assemblies in order to be implemented at the provincial level. The approval comes a day after another horrific case of child abuse emerged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district.