Pakistan passes child abuse law after girl’s rape and murder

Zainab’s father Ameen leaves the Kot Lakhpat Jail following the execution of his daughter’s murderer in 2018. (AFP pic)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament passed a new law against child abuse on Wednesday, two years after the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl that shocked the country.

Pakistan’s first national child abuse law will introduce a penalty of life imprisonment for child abuse, said Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari.

It follows the death of Zainab Ansari, whose body was found in a garbage dumpster in Kasur district near the eastern city of Lahore in 2018, sparking large protests and accusations of negligence by authorities.

There had been reports of a number of missing children in the district since 2015, when authorities uncovered what they said was a paedophile ring linked to a prominent local family.

Mazari tweeted that the bill’s passage had been “a long struggle” as she thanked colleagues for helping it clear numerous hurdles.

“Finally, we have emerged today successful, getting the Zainab Alert Bill sailed through the National Assembly with a majority of votes,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

An amended version of the bill cleared Pakistan’s legislative assembly late on Wednesday after being passed by the upper house earlier this year. It is expected to receive the formal assent of the president in the coming days.

Zainab’s case triggered debate in Pakistan over whether to teach children how to guard against sex abuse, a taboo subject in the Muslim majority nation.

Nearly 10 cases of child abuse a day are reported in Pakistan, according to Sahil, an organisation that works on child protection, with girls disproportionately affected.

The law requires police to register a case within two hours of a child’s parents reporting them missing.

It includes measures to speed up the process, including the establishment of a dedicated helpline and a new agency to issue alerts for a missing child.