Amendments made in child protection bill without JI’s consent

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The parliamentary committee, headed by MNA Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, has agreed to redefine the present laws – the new amendment makes anyone below the age of 18 to be defined as a ‘child’ in any case that refers to sexual harassment or unnatural acts, as per the new section 377-A set in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The earlier law defined anyone “under the age of 14” as a ‘child’.

The decision was made at the Parliament House during a discussion to amend the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 and various PPC sections, 1860 at the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights.

Syed Naveed Qamar, MNA PPP, had showed objection at the age limit for the crime which prompted the committee to increase the limit and add sub-section, “below the age of 18 years”. A decision was taken to reduce the life imprisonment sentence to seven years punishment for any crime under section 377-A; however, the legal definition of ‘sexual harassment’ was broadened.

After a long battle by activists and few lawmakers themselves, with this fourth bill regarding child protection, the committee has agreed to modifications in sections 292A – Exposure to Seduction and 292B – Child Pornography. The prison sentence proposed in the bill for the offenses is seven years of life in prison. Sections 328A – Cruelty to a Child, would be treated similarly to section 292A and Section 292B.

Meanwhile JI MNA Ayesha Syed put forward the point that the sub section’s phrase must remain open ended for sub-section of 377-A, unlike the wish of others. She quoted verses from the Holy Quran and debated that the book was clear about the punishments of sexual offences. She also demanded that the decision should be made with the consultation of the Council of Islamic Ideology to discuss punishments as per Shairah and said that four witnesses were required to approve any such allegation.

Other parliamentarians debated that these crimes were not committed infront of people – though modern means of DNA collection and proofs maybe used.

A bill was also framed to create the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC), which drew criticism from various lawmakers including Ayesha Syed and Naveed Qamar; however, the NCRC establishment was eventually approved as other officials were of the view that a body was needed to protect the rights of children. It would act as an independent body monitoring the rights of children such as abuse, violence, trafficking, pornography and prostitution. The body would have 18 members and would hold powers equal to a civil court.