By Nasir Iqbal
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was told on Tuesday that the federal government is devising a law to register and provide protection to unattended children through a special welfare fund, to be created through the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Bill 2016.
Additional Attorney General Mohammad Waqar Rana informed a three-judge SC bench –headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar – that the proposed law has already been approved by the federal cabinet, but said he would confirm its status and let the court known whether it had been forwarded to parliament for final approval or not.
The information was presented before the apex court during a hearing of the court’s suo motu notice of the Tayyaba torture case.
The notice was initiated on media reports that a minor maid was allegedly beaten and her hands were burnt by her employer, Additional District and Sessions Judge (ADSJ) Raja Khurram Ali Khan, but the matter was later patched up and a compromise was reached.
On Dec 28, 2016, someone from the neighbourhood called the Child Protection and Welfare Bureau’s office in Rawalpindi and informed them about Tayyaba’s mistreatment, who worked at the judge’s I-8/1 residence for a couple of years.
Initially, the police and a medico-legal officer were of the view that the girl had fallen down some stairs, but it was later revealed to Assistant Commissioner Nisha Ishtiaq that she was beaten and detained in a storeroom by the ADSJ and his wife over a missing household item.
On Tuesday, the court ordered the parties involved to study the bill carefully and submit their stance within a week.
Earlier, Advocate General Islamabad Mian Abdul Rauf told the court that charges against the accused had been submitted and summons had been issued. In addition, the trial had been transferred to the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which would begin proceedings from tomorrow (Thursday).
The chief justice observed that the case had two aspects; the first related to the criminal nature of the case, in view of the torture inflicted on the minor maid, while the other concerns was the formulation of a law to protect children.
During proceedings, social worker Tahira Abdullah asked the court to order provincial governments to devise laws for the protection of minors employed as domestic help and pointed out that there was no law to discourage child labour in the country. The child-trafficking situation is also alarming, she said.
Meanwhile, the proposed bill suggests a mechanism for the rescue, care and protection of children at risk. In addition, the court was told that the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act 2016, which criminalises the offences of cruelty to child, child abuse and trafficking of human beings, has already been enacted.
The National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill 2016 has been introduced in parliament, which provides for effective supervision and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the court was informed.
Under the proposed law, a child in need of protection and care will include children who have been subjected to or are under serious threat of child abuse or exploitation while in the care of their parents, legal guardians or any other person who has their custody; or if a child is unattended, the victim of an offence, found begging, imprisoned with the mother or lives in an immoral environment.
It is the responsibility of the state under Article 35 of the Constitution to provide protection to the children besides Article 25(3) also empowered the state to make special provisions for the protection of children. Under the 18th amendment, the subject of minors has been devolved to the provinces.
The proposed law also envisages the setting up of a child protection advisory board, known as the Islamabad Capital Territory Child Protection Advisory Board, with the Minister for Human Rights as its chairperson.
It will include secretaries from the ministries of Human Rights, Capital Administration Development Division (CADD), Law and Interior; the Islamabad inspector general of police; representatives of the National Commission on Status of Women and National Commission on Human Rights; the ICT mayor and one National Assembly from Islamabad. Four members each will hail from an NGO, an expert on sociology, psychology or related social sciences, the Islamabad High Court Bar Association, and a representative from religious minorities.
Under the proposed law, the board will advise the government on matters relating to policy, legislation and implementation of the rights of the child, ensuring effective coordination and implementation of the child protection and care mechanism, recognise, regulate and inspect all caregiver organizations.
Under the bill, the government will also establish one or more child protection institutions and after a comprehensive assessment, if a child is found in need of care, a child protection officer will develop a child care plan for them.