Crime, in general, is a topic laced with fear. However, it transcends the realm of being absolutely vile and gut-wrenching whenever a child is its victim. Every time I found myself reading yet another case of a child’s abduction, my heightened sense of paranoia would immediately kick in and scurry over to my younger siblings. Thankfully, the mass pushback in the form of #JusticeforZainab here in Pakistan helps to alleviate my fear. The decision to repel and restrict this particular crime has become unanimous.
If you’re from Pakistan, you are all too aware of how parents have anointed household help to watch their children day in and day out. It is a place where wandering about alone in the street isn’t permitted. And no, it’s not due to some overwhelming crime rates. Here, regardless of your class, sex, religion, etc. parents nationwide are prone to accompanying their women and especially children everywhere. This ominous tone is due to rare but horrific instances like the rape and murder of Zainab Ansari from Kasur. An innocent little girl who, despite all these protocols, wasn’t permitted to live.
In January 2018, the report that Zainab Ansari was missing in Kasur was first reported. Much to her parents’ horror, her corpse materialized five days later. What ensued, was an uproar from all corners of Pakistan with a resounding #JusticeforZainab. Various protests were led nationwide against the Police segment for its inaction.
Sou motu notices were taken by the Supreme Court to help prevent another name from being added to the growing list of victims. The murderer eventually confessed to the heinous crime and was later found guilty on six similar counts as well. He was given four death penalties, seven years in imprisonment and a 4.1 million rupee ($31,000) fine for kidnapping, raping and murdering Zainab.
#JusticeforZainab did prevail (or as closest as it could have) when the murderer met his fate at the ends of the noose. However, in its aftermath, the slogan #JusticeforZainab continued to echo through corners of the world. It refused to simmer down as the injustice could neither be forgotten nor discarded.
Developing a national strategy on the implementation of laws against violence against children, fortunately, became the need of the hour. Due to the relentless social media campaigns and the judiciary taking prompt action, #JusticeforZainab was effective in flagging the issue. As a result, the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act, 2019 was promulgated by the Parliament. It even paid homage to the deceased by dedicating that:
“…it is urgent and necessary to introduce systems with respect to raising alerts, as well as the response and recovery of missing and abducted children, so that incidents such as that of a seven-year-old Zainab, resident of district Kasur, who was abducted, raped and murdered in January 2018, do not occur again in future.”
Moreover, having signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 and becoming the 96th Contracting State, Pakistan was already the first South Asian and the fourth Muslim country to align itself with the principles of the Convention. Being a legal professional, these rigors served as a ray of hope that I so deeply covet for my country. Albeit being a “federal” law, this shall pave way for the provincial legislators to follow in its prime example.
A Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency of missing and Abducted Children (ZARRA) is due to be set up. This shall comprise of professionals retaining expertise in the field. Coordination is being done with national agencies such as Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Alerts signifying the physical characteristics, age, name, last place to be seen, etc. are to be generated to help raise awareness through all social mediums.
But perhaps, the gravest deterrent that this Act of 2019 proposes is the punishments formulated for such offenders. So far, the same has been a point of heated debate among Officials. The proposed form of penalty is that of capital punishment-no questions asked.
Given the infancy of this law, not much can be said or done regarding its efficiency until life is breathed into it. These harrowing tales need to be brought to justice and at a much faster pace than previously witnessed.
For now, my ever-fearful-of-losing-my-loved-ones heart continues to plummet every time I come across such atrocity. But at least, there remains some truth, some hope for the future. With such laws, Pakistanis may be one step closer to roaming peacefully- and freely- in the world, we call home.