The Sexual Violence Response Framework 2020- 2024 (SVRF) has been developed by the Government of Sindh (GoS) with technical support of the Legal Aid Society (LAS). The objective of SVRF is to improve responses of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) to sexual violence (SV) in Sindh and gradually eliminate its occurrence.
It is an unfortunate reality that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a widespread phenomenon across Pakistan. In 2020, 985 cases of sodomy, 787 cases of rape and 89 cases of pornography had been reported from all over Pakistan. The number of cases had increased by 4% compared to last year’s data (of 2019). Moreover, it has been revealed that amongst the reported cases of child abuse, 51% of the victims have been girls and 49% have been boys. It is important to note that 29% of these cases have been reported from Sindh. However, the conviction rate in cases of SV remains below 3%, highlighting the critical gaps in the responses of CJS actors and stakeholders to instances of SV.
The recently enacted Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act 2021 and the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 have introduced a number of changes into the law.
The 2021 Anti-Rape Act was enacted to ensure expeditious redressal of rape and sexual abuse crimes involving women and children. The 2021 Act achieves its aim through the establishment of:
- Anti-Rape Crisis Cells (ARCC),
- Special Courts,
- Special Prosecutors,
- Special Sexual Offences Investigation Units (SSOIU),
- Independent Support Advisers (ISAs), and
- a register of sex offenders.
It has been argued that the 2021 Act has compiled a number of pre-existing special protection mechanisms (such as survivor-centric directions laid down in Salman Akram Raja v. Government of Punjab and the abolishment of the two-finger test (TFT) by the Supreme Court in Atif Zareef v. The State). This highlights the fact that if the law is not properly implemented, its enactment will simply fail to reduce the tragic cases of SGBV.
The 2021 Amendment has substituted the definition of rape stipulated in section 375 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 (PPC) by including the new section 375A titled “gang rape”. The new definition of rape encompasses gender-neutral language and increases the scope and the ambit of the complex crime of rape. The new definition covers all facets of rape and penetration of a sexual nature i.e. through the penis, objects, or a part of body other than the penis, etc.
To put law to paper is one thing, to ensure that it is implemented is another. For example, the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences Relating to Rape) Act of 2016 amended the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 (Act V of 1898) in 2016. It included a new section 344A, which mandated the courts to decide rape cases within three months. This can be contrasted with the new Section 16 of the 2016 Act, which stipulates that upon taking cognizance of a case, the court shall decide the case expeditiously and preferably within four months.
The SVRF fills the gap between the enactment of law and its implementation and introduces research-based sustainable interventions in order to reform the CJS’s response to SV. The SVRF achieves its object through a two-fold approach. First, it provides a detailed breakdown of actions and interventions necessary for the successful implementation of legislation and case-law. Secondly, it expands the scope of the work of government functionaries beyond the law to initiate primary, secondary and tertiary preventative and responsive measures to work towards the gradual elimination of SV. These are explained below:
- Primary Prevention: Interventions that take place prior to any incident of sexual violence occurring and focus on preventing any such incident from occurring. For example, intervention 4.1.2 provides for “…whole of school interventions to promote gender equality, respectful relationships and safe and discrimination-free school environment.’’
- Secondary Response: Immediate responses following the occurrence of sexual violence to deal with the short-term consequences of violence. For example, intervention 5.1.1 provides for “…A Special Cadre of specially trained police officers, prosecutors, medicolegal officers, and judges in every district to be notified to have exclusive jurisdiction on sexual violence cases.’’ Intervention 5.1.1 can be compared with the special Prosecutors and SSOIU introduced in the 2021 Act. The secondary response intervention in the SVRF is comprehensive as it goes beyond police officers and prosecutors. This is because in the absence of a well-coordinated and multi-departmental approach, SV cannot be eliminated. It is also important to mention that LAS is working toward gender-sensitization of police officers, prosecutors, medicolegal officers and judges. Additionally, the establishment of Specialized Investigation Officers for SGBV offences, notified on 04-06-2021 by the Sindh Police through the efforts of LAS, is similar to the SSOIU established by the 2021 Act.
- Tertiary Prevention and Response: Long-term responses to sexual violence have been introduced in the SVRF to deal with the lasting consequences of violence. For example, intervention 5.1.1 provides for ‘‘…Regular qualitative and quantitative research to elaborate and diagnose specific gaps and bottlenecks within the system.’’ It is important to mention that LAS has released a gap analysis report on the prosecution of rape and sodomy cases identifying the structural and procedural gaps within the system.
The SVRF was developed after a series of consultations with various key departments, institutions and individuals from the criminal justice system, including the Police, Medicolegal Department, Office of the Prosecutor General, Office of the Advocate General, Health Department, Human Rights Department, Sindh Judicial Academy, Sindh Human Rights Commission and the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, etc. The aim to push for coordinated and multi-sectoral learning and response to SV has also lead to the notification of the One-Stop Protection Centre (OSPC). The OSPC operates as a one-location centre providing immediate support and assistance to victims of SGBV by placing medical, psychological, legal and police services within proximity to one another. Since the establishment of OSPC, LAS has provided free legal advice to 26 victims and survivors of SGBV/VAWG (sexual and gender-base violence/violence against women and girls).
The idea of an OSPC is to fulfill the objective of providing multi-sectoral coordinated services to victims/survivors and complainants by eliminating the need for them to travel to different locations to access different services. It also results in better sectoral coordination and response by improving the experience of victims/survivors and complainants within the criminal justice system. It also reduces delays and potential attrition through fast-track movement in response to an incident of SGBV. The OSPC is similar to the ARCC introduced by the 2021 Act.
The OSPC is evidence that a multi-sectoral coordinated approach will gradually eliminate the occurrence of SV. SGBV not only has negative consequences for the victims/survivors but also their families as well as the society. It can no longer be brushed aside. In this regard, the 2021 Act and the 2021 Amendment are much-welcome lights at the end of a very dark tunnel and will hopefully go on to protect victims/survivors of SV through a multi-sectoral coordinated approach as outlined in the SVRF.
 Government of Sindh (2020), ‘’ Sexual Violence Response Framework 2020- 2024 (SVRF)’’ Available at: http://sindhlaws.gov.pk/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=NID-000291
 A not-for-profit society registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860 in 2014 with a mission to connect vulnerable and disempowered end users of justice with effective and expedient services for the delivery of justice.
 Sahil NGO (2021), ‘‘Cruel Numbers 2020’’ Available at: http://sahil.org/cruel-numbers/
 PLJ 2013 SC 107 (para 16)
 Criminal Appeal No.251/2020
 SVRF (pg 10)
 SVRF (pg 36)
 SVRF (pg 101)
 Gap Analysis on the Prosecution of Rape and Sodomy Case by the Legal Aid Society (2021). Available at: https://www.las.org.pk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Gap-Analysis-on-Investigation-and-Prosecution-of-Rape-and-Sodomy-Cases-R.pdf
 The One-Stop Protection Centre pilot project was notified on August 16, 2021 by the Sindh Police (notification no. 20743-49/Al4p/qs/2021) with the efforts of LAS.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which they might be associated.