ISLAMABAD, Feb 20: The Senate on Monday unanimously passed a landmark bill making domestic violence against any vulnerable person, including women and children residing in the federal capital a criminal offence and bringing it to public domain.The bill "Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2012" received support from all the political parties having representation in the upper house forcing Deputy Chairman Jan Mohammad Jamali to put the bill for a vote immediately for its passage instead of sending it again to the house committee concerned.
Introducing the bill as a private member, Nilofar Bakhtiar of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) told the house that it was the same bill that had earlier been passed by the National Assembly a couple of years back but could not get through the Senate after objection raised by some of the members.
Ms Bakhtiar, who is amongst those senators retiring next month, insisted that the bill should be passed at once and not referred to standing committee concerned as it had already been discussed at various forums.
The bill seeks to prevent violence against any person with a network of protection committees and protection officers and prompt criminal trials for suspected abusers. The bill has defined domestic violence as "all acts of gender-based or physical or psychological abuse committed by an accused against women, children or other vulnerable persons, with whom the respondent is or has been in a domestic relationship."
Under the bill, any aggrieved person or any other authorised person can file a petition to the court, which shall fix the first date of hearing within seven days of receiving a complaint. The petition should be "disposed of within a period of 90 days and any adjournment given during the hearing of the petition be granted for reasons to be recorded in writing by the court," says the bill which has also made it binding on the court "to fix the next date of hearing of the case within a period not exceeding 30 days."
The bill gives powers to the court to issue "an interim order at any time and stage of the petition" and can pass "protection orders" and "residence orders" under which it can prohibit the respondent from "committing any act of domestic violence, aiding or abetting in the commission of acts of domestic violence, entering the place of employment of the aggrieved person or, if the aggrieved person is a child, his or her educational institution or any other place frequented by the aggrieved person."
It can also stop the respondents from "attempting to communicate in any form" with the victim "oral or written, electronic or telephonic or mobile phone contact."
Under the bill, "the court may require from the accused to execute a bond, with or without sureties, for preventing the commission of domestic violence." The court also has the powers to direct the respondent to pay monetary relief to the victim of the domestic violence.
For committing a breach of protection order, the respondent can face six months imprisonment with a fine of Rs100,000 or more. In case of second violation, the imprisonment will be enhanced up to two years with a fine of Rs200,000.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill says: "The issue of domestic violence has been a source of public concern for a number of years. Being in the private domain, the gravity of violence in the domestic sphere is compounded. In cognisance of the stress and unbearable suffering of the aggrieved person, it is necessary to criminalise the act.
"Through this bill, domestic violence is brought into the public domain and responds to national policy for development and empowerment of women and convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women of adopting zero-tolerance for violence against women and introducing positive legislation on domestic violence."
Members from both treasury and opposition benches including Leader of the House Nayyar Bokhari, Tahir Hussain Mushadi of MQM, Haji Adeel of ANP, PML-N's Raja Zafarul Haq and PML-Q's Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain fully backed the bill.
The members thumped their desks when Khalid Soomro of the JUI-F also announced the support to the bill.
It may be recalled that earlier it was due to the opposition by JUI-F Senator Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani that the government defferred the bill in the Senate and later allowed it to lapse.
Ms Bakhtiar expressed the hope that the bill would provide a guideline to the provinces to adopt similar legislations to provide protection to the victims of domestic violence.