Anti-Harassment Laws in Pakistan
Sexual harassment is a non-consensual act, carried out either physically or mentally, or through words spoken towards another person, in a sexual context, which makes the victim uncomfortable and distressed.
While being reluctant to speak up about it at first, many women and men have come out with their experiences. Such cases include allegations against Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, etc. and the narrative in Pakistan regarding Ali Zafar.
According to the statistics presented by Madadgaar National Helpline 1098 and the National Commission for Children, Pakistan is among countries where around 70% of women and girls have experienced violence by their partners and around 93% of women have experienced different forms of sexual misconduct in public places in their lifetime. According to the same helpline, over 9,000 women and children have asked for protection by either contacting the helpline via phone or visiting in person.
These statistics show a staggering amount of women and children going through harassment. However, a rather positive element which comes from the reported figures is that many women and children did come forward and this is a huge step towards catalyzing a much needed social change, especially in countries such as Pakistan.
So what can Pakistanis do when they find themselves to be victims of sexual harassment or know someone who has faced this horrible situation? Some laws under the Pakistan Penal Code (1860) provide for the accused to be held liable and sentenced with either imprisonment, a heavy fine or even a death sentence. Such laws are extremely significant for both women and men as they allow victims to seek justice against the acts of their perpetrators.
Under Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860), if a person insults a woman regarding her modesty, whether through gestures or words, the perpetrator can be charged with three years of imprisonment, or with a fine, or both.
Under section 496C of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860), anyone making false accusations against another female are to be punished with five years in prison and with a fine.
A person who does something that is considered indecent and vulgar, including singing or reciting a song with vulgar lyrics, shall be liable under Section 354A of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860) and shall be imprisoned for three months or may be given a fine or be ordered to do both.
A person who assaults a woman, uses physical force against her, or strips her of her clothes for the public to see, shall be liable under Section 354A of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860). The accused may be given a death sentence or imprisoned for life.
A person who forces a young girl under the age of eighteen to have sexual intercourse with another person, shall be liable under Section 366A of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860) and charged with ten years of imprisonment or with a fine.
Some laws which can be useful for women in workplaces include the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010). The statute is considered to be one of the latest developments in Pakistani law and defines harassment as:
“Any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with such a request or is made a condition for employment.”
This statute also introduces the system of an inquiry committee which shall consist of three members, of which one of them must be a female. This inquiry committee shall be set up by any organization or company which receives a complaint from a worker regarding harassment. The mandate can be found under Section 3 of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010). According to section 8 of the statute, women also have an option to complain directly to the Ombudsperson.
Section 4 of the same statute introduces various forms of penalties against the perpetrator. Some of these penalties include censorship, compensation by the perpetrator through payment or fine, suspension, removal or early retirement of the perpetrator from the company or demotion to a lower post.
According to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016), anyone who uses any information to harm another person or their reputation shall be held liable and punished with three years in prison, or with fine, or both.
Under the same Act, a person who posts information to tarnish another person’s reputation, especially a female’s reputation, to blackmail or create hatred for the victim, shall be imprisoned for five years, or may be fined for five million rupees, or both.
As far as cyber-stalking is concerned, a person who harasses or stalks another person online, knowing that the other person has not consented to the interaction or is not comfortable, shall also be liable under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016). Similarly, a person who takes the victim’s pictures or videos and displays them on the internet so that the victim gets harmed, may be given a punishment of three years in prison, or a heavy fine, or both.
With the introduction of such laws, Pakistan seems to be moving forward in becoming a more progressive nation. However, even with the existence of such laws, many women and men are still unable to stand up for themselves, mainly due to the lack of awareness of their rights or the fear of social stigma, which is why we are failing to address the issue of harassment once and for all. It is hoped that with changing times and with the help of awareness campaigns, the issue of harassment can be minimized.
Pakistan Penal Code (1860)
Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016)
Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010)
Madadgaar National Helpline
National Commission for Children
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.