The gashing incidents of Zainab’s rape and murder followed by that of Farishta have forced the Pakistani state to take urgent steps to prevent the prevalent menace of child sexual abuse. A subcommittee of the National Assembly (NA) has approved the first draft of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019. The draft bill recommends rigorous imprisonment until death for sexual assault and murder of children. The makers of the bill believe that the legislation will prove instrumental in stopping the crime of sexual abuse and molestation of the children.

The chair of the subcommittee of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights, Dr Mahreeen Razzaq defends the introduction of harsher penalties for the abusers to make them “realise their crime in the harshest conditions until the day they die.” However, we have seen many a time that just retributive actions of the state do not work effectively to create deterrence against heinous crimes such as the one under discussion. To stop the crime from happening and to protect the children from being abused in the future, the state needs to adopt a multi-pronged strategy against the menace. Apart from retributive measures, the government also needs to introduce preventive steps in the bill.

Nonetheless, it is welcome that the bill is addressing every issue that is related to child sexual abuses, i.e., alert, rape, rescue and kidnapping. It is also great to observe that the subcommittee has suggested a one-window operation where the aggrieved party can register missing of their child within two hours. However, the real issue in any criminal case, including the offence of child sexual abuse, is the behaviour of the law enforcement agencies.

Police, in Pakistan, is notorious for not registering a first information report (FIR) if an aggrieved person visits a police station. Most of the times, the delay in FIR proves disastrous. The case of Farishta, where police not only refused to register an FIR but also maltreated the father of the slain girl, is a glaring example in this regard. Had police taken prompt action on the complaint of the father of the deceased, the murder could have been averted.

Police are indeed among the first responders in child maltreatment cases. However, it is not just police. The bill is silent on the role of emergency medical technicians, child protective services caseworkers, which should be ideally from the police force, and law enforcement officers. The bill needs to chart in clear terms state’s expectations from police officers in such cases. Until and unless such tangible measures remain missing in the document aforementioned, the legislation may not produce the desired results.