Punjab govt works on practical measures to eradicate child abuse: report

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LAHORE: The grisly incident of rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab of Kasur seems to have brought the Punjab government out of its slumber as officials hint at working on introducing various mechanisms including the famous ‘AMBER Alert system’ to protect children against sexual abuse, according to a report by a private media outlet.

The provincial authorities also plan to create profiles of sex offenders that should compulsorily be available in respective police stations across the province as well as online for the public access.

These measures have been announced amid growing public discontent and distrust of law-enforcement agencies (LEAs), especially the police, who have drawn the flak for their alleged inaction since Kasur’s child abuse case.

Among other measures, the government intends taking is the installation of CCTV cameras in “hot-spot” regions in the province to monitor suspicious activities. It calls for holding an inquiry into delay in the establishment of the AFIS (Automated Finger Identification System) and DNA databases and fix responsibility.

The Child Protection and Welfare Bureau (CPWB) has been asked to present all the cases of child abuse to the Chief Minister Office within a week of these crimes being reported.

As the civil society and judiciary’s pressure mounted, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif constituted a 20-member committee on “safeguarding children” chaired and co-chaired by law and school education ministers to holistically review and recommend measures to prevent the increasing trend of child abuse in society. The committee further constituted three sub-committees on curriculum and awareness, AMBER alert, and law/prosecution.

The sub-committee on AMBER alert chaired by Child Protection and Welfare Bureau’s Punjab chairperson Saba Sadiq on Monday last recommended replication of the system (currently being practised in the USA and Europe) across Punjab.

The committee has planned that Punjab should introduce “Alert” child protection hotline service linked to a dashboard (information system), where all such offenders should be listed. It suggests that the police must profile previously convicted offenders and share their pictures, fingerprints and all relevant details on the dashboard.

It also proposes SOPs to immediately know, locate and recover missing child beside making society children-friendly. It suggests that laws be introduced that no child should be left alone in the street, parks, shopping centres and other public places.

The sub-committee on curriculum and awareness headed by School Education Department Secretary Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik is proposing revisions in school curriculum to educate children on how to deal with strangers and do self-protection. “It is also required to suggest ways to connect state and society to jointly fight the menace of child abuse.”

The school education department is already said to have been working to introduce supplementary material titled “Pakeeza Zindgi” based on the injunctions of the Holy Quran and Ahadees for the guidance of young children. “The special supplementary material for students will be published with the guidance of ulema,” says Dr Malik.

The schools or clusters of schools will also have counsellors who will educate children about safety and appropriate physical contact.

The sub-committee on legislation led by the public prosecution department secretary is reviewing existing laws and Criminal Investigation Procedures with reference to child abduction and abuse.