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Pakistan: Senate Passes Bill to Criminalize Child Sexual Abuse and Child Pornography

(Mar. 22, 2016) On March 11, 2016, the Senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s federal legislature, passed a bill that includes a number of amendments to Pakistan’s Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure. The legislation adds provisions criminalizing child sexual abuse, child pornography, and domestic human trafficking.  (Senate Passes Law Against Child Sexual Abuse, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Mar. 11, 2016).) The statement of objectives and reasons for the bill reads:

Pakistan ratified the United Nations’ Convention of on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990, and is under obligation to implement its provisions by harmonizing national policies, legislations, programmes, plans of action with it and report progress to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Geneva after every five years. To undertake this task, existing laws are required to be harmonized with the UNCRC to effectively initiate requisite actions for meeting the standards set forth under the UNCRC. (Statement of Objects and Reasons, Bill Further to Amend the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, at 6, Senate website (last visited Mar. 21, 2016).)

The legislation would raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven years of age to ten. Under the Criminal Code, children above the age of seven and under twelve who are considered of immature understanding are not held criminally responsible for their acts.  The bill amends this section to read ten and fourteen years of age, respectively. (Id. §§ 2 & 3. ) The legislation also criminalizes the act of exposing children to obscene and sexually explicit material with a punishment of not less than one year and up to seven years of imprisonment and a fine (not less than one hundred thousand rupees and up to five hundred thousand rupees).  (Id. § 4.)

The bill would also add a provision that prohibits the production of child pornography, punishing such acts with from two to seven years of imprisonment and a fine of from 200,000 to 700,000 rupees. (Id.)  New sections are also proposed on penalizing cruelty to children, sexual abuse of minors, and human trafficking.  (Id. §§ 5-7.)

According to one news report, the amendment “criminalizes child trafficking within Pakistan.  Previously traffickers were only liable for punishment if they removed children from the country.”  (Senate Passes Law Against Child Sexual Abuse, supra.)

Background

In August 2015, Pakistan faced “a major pedophilia scandal when it was revealed that hundreds of pornographic videos of children from the village of Hussain Khanwala in Punjab had been created and were being circulated.” (Id.)  Around 20 arrests were made, but only the acts of rape and sodomy were punishable by law at that time.  (Id.)

The draft legislation had first been introduced in the National Assembly in 2009, but had only passed the lower house in December 2015. It was introduced in the upper house and referred to the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights on December 23, 2015.  The Committee approved the draft legislation on March 2, 2016.  (Riazul Haq, Senate Panel Passes Bill Against Child Abuse, EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Mar. 3, 2016).) Federal Minister of Human Rights, Zahid Hamid, who had tabled the bill, stated that the pedophilia scandal had “struck a chord with the government which wanted to expedite the bill’s passage.”  (Id.)

The Law will come into force once it has been signed by the President of Pakistan. (Senate Passes Law Against Child Sexual Abuse, supra.)