A report on reforms in laws, procedures and police to create a system that protects the children and vulnerable segments of Pakistani society.
Year after year, Pakistan has suffered the pain and agony of seeing thousands of its innocent children kidnapped , missing, trafficked, abused, raped, enslaved and killed. This has however not been a reason enough for Pakistan to improve either its police or its processes, which continue to remain inefficient, inadequate and insensitive towards its most vulnerable groups. This paper suggests 4 approaches that ought to be concurrently adopted if Pakistan is serious and sincere to reform its system and to protect its children.
When a child goes missing
Proposal for a missing child alert and response system in Pakistan.
Feb 6, 2018
In 1996, a nine year old girl Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Arlington, Texas. Within days of this tragic incident, plans were initiated to developing better laws and more effective child protection systems. Thus began the development and adoption of ‘Amber Alert’, an acronym for “America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response”. As of January 2018, over 900 children have been recovered through this program which has now been adopted by 22 other countries besides the US.
Somewhere in another country on the same globe in the same time period, a single individual sliced and chemically dissolved the dead bodies of over 100 children in Lahore. Militants barbarically massacred 132 school children in Peshawar and in the small town of Husain Khanwala videos emerged of 280 children who were abused, filmed and blackmailed. In the first six months of 2017, ten minor children between the ages of five to ten were kidnapped, raped and killed in Kasur. None of these soul-shattering events were however significant enough to shake an insensitive government to change and reform its archaic and dysfunctional policing processes.
There is an urgent need to develop a nation-wide ‘Missing Child Alert’ (MCA) system supported by ‘Missing Child Response Teams (MCRTs) in each province of Pakistan. An MCA alert is raised when the police has determined that a missing child complaint meets the ‘MCA’ criteria. The ‘alert’ sends messages to radio and TV stations, posts messages on websites and social media and asks the cell phone companies to send SMS messages to cell phone users in the selected area (city, province or nation-wide). TV channels begin to show tickers while the radio stations interrupt broadcasts to announce details of the missing child. Simultaneously the ‘MCRT’ teams spring into action to investigate, search and recover the missing child.
While the formation of provincial ‘Child Protection Authorities’ is a welcome initiative, it may have been far more productive to first enact MCA and MCRT legislation. Such a legislation is required to bind the concerned organisations to undertake the information dissemination tasks as soon as an MCA alert is activated. Likewise provinces could define the role, composition and functioning of MCRTs.
The government currently has no mechanism for collecting data for missing children. Only for Karachi the missing child figures for the year 2017 vary between 1894 (obtained by an NGO) to 72 (registered by the police). A ‘Missing Child Alert’ (MCA) and ‘Missing Child Response Teams’ (MCRT) system could radically transform the accountability, recording, alerting and investigating processes for the recovery of missing children. Making it mandatory to raise an FIR instead of making entries in the ‘’roznamcha’’ register must be the first step for all missing child complaints. Establishing a computer / IT facility in every police station of the province must be the next. The following paragraphs define a typical MCA sequence.
An MCA alert is raised only if the event simultaneously meets a 3 point criteria i.e. a. The missing person is a child under the age of 18; b. The police have reason to believe that the missing child has been abducted / missing; c. The police have reason to believe that the physical safety or the life of the child is in danger. The decision to initiate the MCA alert ought to be taken by a senior police officer such as an SSP, SP or DPO.
MCRT is activated for all cases of missing children, independently or in conjunction with an MCA alert. MCRT is a rapid response task force that assumes complete responsibility for the recovery of a missing child. Led by a police SSP/SP, an MCRT consists of highly trained professionals such as a forensic expert, an investigator, a search and rescue professional, a special branch representative, a digital forensic expert, a ‘Crime Scene Unit’ representative and a ‘Child Protection Officer’ of the Child Protection Authority. Each province could create and train as many MCRT teams as considered necessary.
An inorganic police system based on the laws enacted in 1861 and operating like domestic workers for those in power can neither change nor reform itself. The trick lies in meticulously reforming just one small process, such as an MCA system, to establish a precedence and pattern for the much needed change in almost every other aspect of governance.
Reforms in registration of FIR and proposed changes in laws.
Missing child is the first link of a chain of events that often lead to kidnapping, rape, trafficking or murder of children. The first 48 hours of a missing child are critical in shaping the final outcome of what might happen to a child. Sadly our current laws and procedures provide no protection to the missing children in these crucial first 48 hours.
There are a number of critical requirements that need to be addressed in our procedures or incorporated in our laws in order to establish an effective child protection system. Four such issues that require urgent reforms are described in the following paragraphs.
Hence the Child Protection Statues in all provinces ought to be amended to include “missing children” in the definition of children at risk/in need of special protection.
A proposal for basic structural police reforms that are essential to protect children (and all other vulnerable segments) of Pakistan.
A police force for the people
Daily Times, 20 March 2018
Pakistan’s police force is known for its predatory behaviour and obsequious slave-like relationship with those in power. Its role has now shrunk to performing two functions, providing security to those in powers and protecting criminals. When a provincial police force is unable to capture a few dozen ‘thugs’ like the ‘Chotu’ gang of Rajanpur, it has to turn to the country’s military to do its job. Large contingents of Rangers in every province now perform functions that ought to be the primary task of the police force. The situation is so bad that the country’s entire police force cannot trace a person suspected of 444 extra-judicial killings. The tragedy is that none of the above mentioned events has resulted or will result in any reforms. Those in power are completely averse to any change that will make the police independent and take away the only tool of governance that is known to them.
It may be best to acknowledge that seminars, speeches or cosmetic changes cannot rescue the police from the abyss it finds itself in today. This can happen only if we are willing to undertake major structural reforms that provide complete independence to police and disconnect it from the clutches of the politicians. Some of the salient structural and operational reforms essential for turning around the police are suggested in the following paragraphs.
Each provincial police force ought to be governed by a Provincial Police Board (PPB), created under the authority of a new Provincial Police Act (PPA). Each PPB should be headed by the Chief Minister (CM) and consist of seven prominent citizens, chosen for their standing, reputation and expertise in different fields. The PPB is proposed to be an autonomous body. It selects the provincial Police Chief, lays down policy, acts as a watchdog, makes rules and monitors performance. The Police Chief reports to the PPB. The police operates according to the PPA, has its own budget and is independent in all matters of recruitment, promotion, postings, operations, investigations, intelligence, human resource, salaries, rewards and punishments.
The police force as it exists today is simply too ill-equipped and lacks the training needed to understand or perform modern day policing functions. A reasonable number of police officers from each province ought to be sent abroad to be trained in good police training academies. They should be tasked to set up similar training facilities on their return, and to re-train the entire police force in every province. The minimal educational requirement for joining the police force ought to be a Bachelors degree.
The police often appears to act (or refuse to act), not because the law requires it to do so but because of the interests of its masters. It can neither understand the link between crime, guns and fake number plates, nor can it detect such ‘petty’ crimes. Some 100,000 to 200,000 cars with fake number plates openly roam about in Karachi, visible to every eighth-grade student but invisible to the police, the ACLC, the CPLC and the Excise Department of the Sindh Government. This 70 year old disease can be resolved in a matter of days by using Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, strategically located and linked to auto ‘challans’ that are sent to the offenders’ home address. The same process could also be applied to all traffic violations, including those who failed to pay the road tax.
The police desperately need a massive doze of modern technology. Every police station ought to have an IT section. Basic computer handling needs to be declared an essential skill for all policemen. A database of all criminals, prisoners and those apprehended for various crimes ought to be immediately established and shared with all provinces. This should include CNICs, pictures, finger prints and iris scans. All police stations in a province should be able to check and determine the criminal back ground of any individual within a matter of minutes.
The new PPA should make it compulsory to register an FIR for all reported crimes and do away with the placebo of scribbling unreadable statements on ‘Roznamchas’. No citizen should be required to visit a police station to get an FIR registered. Instead, citizens should only inform the police on a National Helpline number. It is for the police to immediately reach the complainant, conduct interviews, examine the scene of the incident, take pictures, gather evidence and record an FIR. All FIRs ought to be computerised, authenticated and placed on a central database.
Only when a labourer, janitor, carpenter or ‘Hari’ can call the police helpline and get an FIR registered against an industrialist or a ‘wadera’, should we consider that our police force has been reformed.