ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Friday unanimously passed the Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill, 2019 aimed at raising alert, response and recovery of missing and abducted children.

The Minister for Human Rights, Dr Shireen Mazari, congratulated the House on passage of the bill and thanked all members of the committee including Dr Mahreen Razzaq Bhutto for their support and hard work on improving this legislative proposal.

It is worth mentioning here that bill was tabled in the previous assembly by PTI lawmaker Asad Umer but it lapsed after completion of the tenure of the House on May 31, 2018. In the incumbent Assembly, the government moved the same bill on April 24, 2019, which was referred to Standing Committee on Human Rights.

After deliberations in the House, the report of the committee on the bill was presented on January 9, which subsequently led to the passage of the bill on Friday. According to Dr Mahreen Razzaq Bhutto, a member of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, the bill had been passed on the second death anniversary of nine-year old Zainab whose body was found from Kasur in 2018 after rape and murder. She dedicated the bill to children and said this legislation will help to secure children and speedy justice to victims.

Speaking in the National Assembly Minister for 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. He hoped that Senate would also take up the bill immediately and pass it which is aimed at protecting the country’s minor children.

The bill will raise the required alerts and initiate the responses required for recovery of missing, abducted, abused or kidnapped children in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). It will help to provide speedy system for alerts, responses, recoveries, investigations, trails and rehabilitation to prevent and curb criminal activities against the children. It will also ensure harmonisation and cohesion in the workings of the new agencies and institutions established for the protection of children and already exacting mechanisms within this field.

According to the bill passed by the National Assembly, 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. It also suggested that Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) will be established headed by Director General to be appointed by prime minister in such manner and in such terms and conditions as may be prescribed the rules. It demanded that management staff of ZARRA should be suitably equipped with skills of managing databases, conducting planning and monitoring of programmes, analysing data, preparing reports and coordinating with all other officers.

It suggested that ZARRA shall work closely with the helpline 1099 or such other helpline operating under the mandate of the division concerned. In this regard, the helpline shall forward complaints relevant to the mandate of ZARRA, which shall be acted upon in partnership between ZARAA and the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) established under the National Commission on the Rights of Child Act, 2017. The bill also proposed 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.