For citizens to timely report any children that go missing, the Ministry of Human Rights, together with Prime Minister’s Performance Delivery Unit (PMDU), on Thursday launched the Zainab Alert app.
A ceremony to mark the momentous occasion was held in Islamabad and attended by Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari and Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar.
Mazari said that the past government had already begun work on an alert, which was named “mera bacha” (my child) on the prime minister’s portal but it was never completed.
She said the Zainab Alert app has been integrated with district police officers throughout the country. In Punjab, it is linked to 36, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to 33, and in Sindh to 50 district police officers.
The human rights minister said that complaints registered with the app will prompt the police to launch an immediate probe into the matter.
She said that the app has been designed in a manner that making a fake alert is not possible.
Mazari said that soon a national directory will be formulated which will work with Edhi and other charities to develop a safety mechanism for children.
The minister added that the ministry of human rights’ existing helpline 1099 will also continue to be available.
What prompted the action?
Cases of child abductions and rape in Pakistan have been on the rise in recent history.
Most recent statistics issued by non-profit organisation Sahil in its “Cruel Numbers” report show more than eight children were subjected to sexual abuse on average every day in the first six months of 2020 in Pakistan and 38 children were killed after being raped.
The Zainab Alert Bill and its associated app have been named after an early 2018 case in which a six-year old girl — called Zainab — was raped and murdered in the eastern city of Kasur, in Punjab province.
The killing sparked outrage across Pakistan, with violence erupting in Kasur as thousands swarmed police stations and set fire to politicians’ homes, while Pakistanis across the country took to social media demanding action.
Her killer was hanged later that year.
President Alvi ratifies Zainab Alert Bill 2020
To clamp down on such cases, the Zainab Alert Bill 2020 was ratified in March by President Arif Alvi, effectively making into what he termed an “excellent law”.
The bill was passed earlier by both the National Assembly and Senate.
“An excellent law for rapid response & recovery in cases of child kidnappings,” the president said.
“It will establish toll free helplines, lay down framework for quick police & admin response. It will use & improve upon technology to trace criminals,” he added.
The law, which provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a Rs1-million fine on child abusers, also dictates that toll-free helplines be established and a framework for quick police and administrative response be laid down.
Moreover, a Zainab Alert, Response, and Recovery Agency (ZARRA) would be established to issue an alert for a missing child. It would work closely with the helpline 1099 or other similar ones.
ZARRA would coordinate with all relevant federal and provincial authorities and law enforcement agencies and maintain an online database of all children reported missing or abducted with their current status.