In January 2018, a terrible incident in Kasur- a city 50 miles away from the provincial capital of Punjab- shook the whole nation. Seven-year-old Zainab was brutally strangled to death after extensive rape and physical torture. The incident forced Pakistani people to think about the safety and vulnerability of minors in society. They were in oblivion about the absence of child security laws in the country. An endless series of public debate and multiple episodes of deadly riots on the rising rate of abduction and sexual exploitation of young children sparked in major cities of Pakistan. These incidents, off course, revealed all deficient performance of government institutions and law enforcement agencies.
Zainab Ansari, seven-year-old daughter of Amin Ansari a resident of Kasur, disappeared while she was going to madrassa on January 4, 2018, and then five days later, on January 9, her body was found on a heap of garbage near Shahbaz Khan Road, Kasur. Autopsy report exposed that the minor girl suffered worst sexual abuse and physical violence before being murdered.
This was not first occurrence of heinous preying on child in the city, but there was a string of such paedophilia and child abduction scandals reported in police department. Zainab’s horrific murder triggered a country-wide protest over the absence of legislation and inaction of local police. Photo of Zainab’s dead body lying on rubbish dump incited a series of protests under the banner “Justice for Zainab”. A strong campaign launched on social and mainstream media that compelled the higher authorities for speedy arrest and conviction of the murderer.
The incident, incredibly, turned out to be a tipping point when human rights activists and various non-governmental organizations stressed for national legislation and addition of severe punishments for those involved in child sexual abuse. The absence of in time mobilization of relevant government agencies on the report of disappearance of a child was found as major cause behind the happening of these crimes. Analysts discerned that such untoward occurrences had avoided if there would have been quick action with the help of a strong coordination system among law enforcement agencies.
To prevent incidents of child disappearance, sexual exploitation in future and for recovery of missing kids a US model of legislation called AMBER ALERT was adopted for Pakistan. Federal government through the Ministry of Human Rights drafted “The Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2020” and managed its successful passage from both houses in parliament. The act supports and complements the existing mandate of federal and provincial law enforcement agencies as well as guides the efforts of all those authorities and departments that are accountable on child abduction cases.
A sub-system with the name of “Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA)”, under the section 3 of this act, read with (2)7, has been established in the Ministry of Human Rights. At a same time, it connects all the stakeholders comprising federal and provincial law enforcement agencies, local police, child protection departments and Prime Minister’s Performance Delivery unit under a modern automated system. The idea behind this connection is to run quickly a wide ranging alert for the recovery of a missing child on the receipt of its report without any delay.
ZARRA (agency) has also introduced a simplest application for mobile phones called “ZAINAB ALERT”. Any citizen of Pakistan can easily download and instantly report the kidnapping of child. Thus, with thirty million real time users, all concerned institutions receive an alert for a missing child, followed by the wide-ranging mobilization. On this app, officers in higher hierarchy like District Police Officers and Regional Police Officers have the direct access to monitoring dashboard that reflects the details of alerts generated by users.
Stats shows that during 2021, Twelve hundred and twenty (1220) cases were reported, out of which seven hundred and five (705) were about male children and five hundred and one (501) were related to female children, whereas it also includes report of 185 fake cases. It is worth mentioning that four hundred and ninety seven (497) children were recovered successfully in this period with the help of this app.
In addition to these steps, an advisory board has been established by the Ministry Of Human Rights for consultation to improve the performance of ZARRA. Board includes Federal Minister for Human Rights and Secretary Ministry of Human Rights as ex-officio members, and various NGOs, journalistic bodies and Pakistan Bar Council that can help to improve its performance through their valuable input.
Apart from this, Ministry of Human Rights is developing an integrated computerized database for proper collection, management and reporting of human rights issues with the help of UNDP. The repository would ensure easy accessibility, analysis and availability of reports at all levels. Whereas, Agency is compiling data on missing and abducted children, reported on helpline 1099 or Zainab Alert app. This database will absolutely provide far-reaching support for evidence based planning, development and administrative interventions for promotion and protection of child rights.
Lastly, a committee has also been constituted under section 4 of this act to devise rules. A major progress is expected in the way of coordination of all stakeholders with the help of these rules. The significant role of Dr. Shireen Mazari can never be denied who put her personal efforts and hard work at all stages from drafting to enactment of this piece of law. It’s now, indeed, the responsibility of all citizens to assist the state machinery for the implementation of this law that is meant for the safety of our children.