Domestic Violence In Pakistan: Is Legislation Available?
One out of every five women, experiences some sort of domestic violence in her life time around the globe. Domestic violence can be described as any incident of threatening behavior, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults aged between 18 – 40. The majority of women suffering from domestic abuse mostly comprises of those who are impoverished.
Since time immemorial, a woman has been considered the property of a man with barely any rights on children, inheritance and wages etc. The authority of a man over women allowed him to use violence that was deemed socially acceptable. It is commonly observed that such customs are still prevalent and are given preference over religious laws that actually have a negative impact on the Pakistani society. The patriarchal gender system is the root of inequalities and injustices.
Domestic violence against women is a complicated issue having different rationalizations. Research all over the globe has shown that violence against women is a fundamental social issue that requires special attention due to the severe nature of its physical, psychological, social and emotional consequences.
The elemental ideals and values of a country are manifested in its legal system that is surrounding the social structure. The legal makeup in Pakistan deals with domestic violence by taking into account two significant elements: constitutional law and the legal frame work construed in light of Shariah principles.
According to a survey by the Human Rights Watch, 70 to 90 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered some form of abuse in their lifetime. At a probable figure of 5000 per year, women are said to be killed from domestic violence, with thousands being permanently disabled. Most of the victims of domestic violence have no access to legal remedies and aid.
Recent research and media reports have made it very clear that violence against women is considered to be a serious cause of concern in Pakistan. The trend of domestic violence against women has been on the rise in recent years. According to Thomson Reuters Foundation, around ninety percent of the women of Pakistan face domestic abuse.
Various strategies have been adopted in order to tackle domestic violence against women, though none have proved to be adequate to eradicate the issue due to the involvement of complex factors.
There are clear provisions in the Constitution of Pakistan regarding equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens before the law. But these principles are yet to be achieved owing to numerous deterring grounds.
Many states have ratified the Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that require them to treat domestic violence against women as a violation of fundamental human rights and to encompass these international standards into domestic legislation as well. Pakistan ratified CEDAW in 1996. Issues of domestic violence are not distinctively covered in the Pakistan Penal Code, however there are several sections covering issues regarding miscarriage, causing hurt, restraint etc.
In spite of these laws, women have been persecuted more instead of being endowed with aid and assistance. The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act was passed in December 2006, incorporating and modifying several clauses in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in relation with sexual assaults on women. The Domestic Violence Bill 2009 set down requirements for the safeguard and monetary aid for victims as well as penalty in the shape of fines or imprisonment for those who infringed the protection orders. Numerous laws have been articulated to protect women from abuse, yet grave breaches continue in Pakistan. In addition to this, the deficiency in the execution of present laws further aggravates their predicament.
Tales of people like Mafia Bibi, a 17 year old teenage from Sahiwal, force us to look into the gloomy realities of where Pakistan still stands today. Countless cases of such disposition remain unaccounted for. Women are restrained to their home, which is deemed to be the securest place for them. This place has the likelihood of becoming the deadliest place if she fails to fulfill the so called established customary and cultural norms.
A significant and strategic attempt was made in 2009 to preclude this exploitation by means of speedy criminal trials. The Domestic Violence Bill tackles domestic violence, which is not limited to “all intentional acts of gender based or other physical or psychological abuse committed by an accused against women, children or other vulnerable persons, with whom the accused is or has been in a domestic relationship.” This Bill has been extensively condemned and termed to amount to “unending family feuds and high divorce rates”. This Bill eventually lapsed due to massive opposition from stakeholders.
The most prominent and distinguished part of the Bill was, Section 9, which offered compensatory provisions for the victims of domestic violence. The first breach of a protection order would be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year not less than six months and minimum fine of Rupees 100,000 that would be paid to the aggrieved person. This was entirely unheard of in the Pakistani culture, where the female family member might have received monetary relief for what she had been through if she had survived.
Concerns have also been expressed by the civil society about the lack of cooperation from the local police authorities. According to a state report of the US Department, women who strived to even report an abuse were confronted with grave challenges. The police and judiciary have also been quite reluctant in taking action in domestic violence cases, regarding them as private family matters.
For Pakistani women, living an independent life is beyond belief. It is said that without their family, they do not have much to look forward to in everyday life. This is the main logic, as to why prominent reforms akin to the Domestic Violence Bill have not been welcomed by women themselves in oppressive societies like Pakistan.
It has also been observed that the judiciary, especially in lower courts, has been known to demonstrate prejudice towards the women who approach the legal system for help. A report of the Asian Human Rights Commission revealed that violence against women is seen to be of no importance to the judiciary of Pakistan, predominantly the lower judiciary. The Domestic Violence Bill 2009, tried to tackle this concern and directed the courts to provide relief directly to the applicant in their jurisdiction in the following words:
“An aggrieved person or any other person authorized by the aggrieved person in writing in this behalf, may present an application to the Court within whose jurisdiction offence was committed for seeking any relief under this act.”
This also affirmed that the court shall fix the hearing within three days of the receipt of the application, which shall be disposed of within a period of thirty days. However the judicial or court system in Pakistan is well known to be lengthy and troublesome where one has to wait for months until they get a date scheduled for hearing. It could take years for the court to reach a decision.
However, the biggest challenge for these reforms is the general mindset of women who feel that these reforms will not have an impact on their lives any time soon, unless the behaviour of the Pakistani society becomes more gender-sensitive. A typical Pakistani woman believes in the fact that it is her fate to bear the consequences of being born into a patriarchal society and a Bill containing such provisions would have negligible impact, if any, on the lives of women, as it is not part of their culture to report their own fathers, brothers or husbands for abuse.
Many married women consider ill-treatment a daily practice, the same as daily household chores. The entire Pakistani culture and society appears to revolve around preserving family honour. Observance of such established customary and cultural norms has become part of a woman’s upbringing.
We as women in Pakistan are taught to compromise and to adjust according to the demands of our in-laws, but a line needs to be drawn as to how much one should abide by and tolerate.
The electronic media in Pakistan has proved to be quite instrumental in bringing stories from the most distant remote places about domestic violence to the public and the establishment.
Even though women in Pakistan may often be considered docile, some women do take action to battle such injustices. Examples of modernization of Pakistani laws like Domestic Violence Act 2012 are encouraging. If our current legal system is devoid of such improvements and modernization, the protection and security of women like Mafia Bibi may be an exhausted cause and these women will continue to be the sufferers of fury at the hands of men in their own families.
On every occasion, a novel legislation is instituted to empower women, especially in cultures that are suppressive towards them. It takes time to get adapted to and familiarized with such laws. Legislation and reforms of such nature denote that a woman in Pakistan can exclusively take off her cloaks of fear and face her oppressor with her ‘nose held high.’
Pakistan requires a sound, effective, synchronized and continual struggle in order to eradicate domestic violence from the society. The Constitution of Pakistan clearly envisages that every person has the right to liberty and safety in accordance with the law, and taking legal aid is a fundamental right for the protection of life. This clause must be accurately executed and put into practice in the outlook of women who are victims of domestic violence. Free and easily accessible legal aid should be provided at all levels especially at the district level.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which she might be associated.