Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act (ZARRA)

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Review and Recommendations for changes in Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act (ZARRA)


The fact that the under approval ZARRA bill would find itself asphyxiated just outside the few square kilometers that define the geography of Islamabad, is by no means a slight on the health of the bill.   The bill is remarkable on at least two counts. It was created as a result of a local incident and an indigenous necessity. Secondly that ZARRA puts into motion the beginning of a serious debate on finding ways to protect the most precious and vulnerable segment of our society.

ZARRA is a great bill and a great beginning. However it has issues which will render it dysfunctional and cosmetic. Here is a detailed analysis on its shortcomings and suggestions for improvement.


  1. The Bill starts off on a right note by defining a “child”, as some one who is below the age of 18, and a “missing child” as someone whose whereabouts are not known regardless of the circumstances or the time elapsed since the child went missing.
  2. The bill very aptly requires the establishment of a Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency and a Director General to administer and perform the functions of ZARRA.   However the bill dampens this excellent note by forgetting to mention the time limit in which these two actions will be completed.   This omission could be disastrous for the ZARRA implementation.
  3. The statement that ZARRA will work closely with the Helpline 1099 (Helpline on Legal advice for Human Rights) is redundant as elsewhere the bill clearly requires a nationwide toll free dedicated hotline for reporting missing children.
  4. The requirement that ZARRA will act upon complaints in partnership with a “yet to be born” organisation such as the National Commission on the Rights of the Child, is unnecessary and restrictive.
  5. To designate the Superintendence of ZARRA to ICT Child Protection Advisory Board, a largely redundant organisation which has itself met just once since the passage of the Advisory Board’s Act in February 2018, is a superfluous arrangement. This ought to be replaced by an annual performance audit conducted by a team of citizens, government and Child Rights organisations. Thus paragraph six of the Bill, relating to power and functions of ICT Child Protection Advisory Board could be done away with.
  6. The alert system will essentially necessitate establishing arrangements with a number of Federal agencies such as PTA, PEMRA, airports etc. Having once established these mechanisms, it would be a travesty of common sense to limit the alerts to ICT only. Even if other provinces were to have their own ZARRAs, the alert system could be common and availed by all. Alerts may be raised nation-wide or only for a province or city.
  7. The Bill aptly requires setting up of a nation-wide telephone hotline where any citizen can report initial or subsequent information relating to a missing child. Hence it only makes sense for ZARRA to create a nation-wide missing child database and not just for ICT.
  8. Requirements like “detecting criminal patterns in a geographical area”, make sense only if ZARRA receives missing children information from the entire country, and not just ICT.
  9. It is too vague for the Bill to make statements such as “ensure that the concerned stakeholders perform their duties’, without explicitly defining who those stakeholders are.
  10. The bill completely misses out on how the important aspects of response, and recovery will be addressed. It ought to have included a requirement of establishing Missing Child Response and Recovery Teams and also defined issues such as responsibilities, training, first responders, triage, securing the scene,   interviewing witnesses, using volunteers, coordinating public information, recovery and reunification.
  11. The ZARRA bill speaks of ‘lodging of a complaint’, without specifying if it is an entry in the daily ‘Roznamcha’ or an FIR. The bill falls short in explicitly stating the requirement of raising an FIR in all cases of missing children.


  1. The bill requires that ZARRA be informed by Police not later than 2 hours “after” the complaint is lodged. It however specifies no time requirement for the lodging of the complaint itself. This is a major loophole and can lend itself to unaccountable delays. To remove this lacuna, it may be best that all missing child complaints are made direct to ZARRA on national helpline and then communicated by ZARRA to the concerned Police Stations as described at para 7 (3) of the bill.
  2. Although largely dedicated to an alert system, the bill fails to state the actual alert process. Typically it ought to have included an alert criteria and that an alert can only be issued when requested by a law enforcement agency.

It is hoped that this important bill will be reviewed for improvements in light of the suggestions made above. This bill ought to be a nation-wide bill. However, if the provinces insist on developing their own ZARRAs, they could do so, but they must retain a common alert system and a nation-wide helpline and database.



PS: Pl. ensure:

  1. A Toll Free Nation wide Help line, where any citizen can report a missing child direct to ZARRA – to prevent distant visits, long awaiting, undignified treatment and hesitation and delay on lodging an FIR by police. This is how it is also done in the rest of the world.
  2. ZARRA shall, on receiving the complaint, shall inform and coordinate with the concerned police station as also defined at para 7 (3) of the bill.
  3. Once ZARRA reports to police, an FIR must be raised by police and response and recovery must begin immediately.
  4. As ZARRA shall receive reports from the whole country, it only makes sense that ZARRA will also maintain a master database of the entire country. Indeed it is the ONLY way Pakistan will EVER know about its MISSING CHILDREN.