LAHORE: Members of the civil society have raised concern at the draft Punjab Protection of Women Victims against Violence Bill 2015 which is expected to be passed in the Punjab Assembly.

A number of women’s rights organisations and human rights’ lawyers gave their recommendations to the Punjab government so that these could be included in the Bill before its passing.

“In the light of recommendations submitted by women’s rights’ organisations, the government should remove the present flaws in the Bill, and introduce provisions that will make this legislation more clear and effective,” said Fareeda Shaheed, Shirkatgah’s executive director, who is one those advocating for the legislation to address domestic violence.

The written recommendations were given to the secretary of the Law Department. Shaheed welcomed the initiative by the department.

Neelum Hussain, convener of Women’s Action Forum, said that while the essence of the Bill was to provide rehabilitation to women victims and survivors of violence through government-run protection centres and shelter homes, she stressed on the Bill to criminalise the act of domestic violence.

Humaira Mumtaz (Shirkatgah) said provisions criminalising domestic violence must be added. “We welcome the law secretary’s initiative to make an effort to take on civil society’s recommendation, but the Punjab government must follow Sindh’s lead, and bring forth a Bill that effectively addresses all offences against women,” she said.

Currently, the Bill is under consideration by the Standing Committee, and it is expected that the committee will engage in meaningful consultation and dialogue with civil society organisations in order to ensure that this proposed legislation effectively deters and counters violent practices against women.

A letter recommending the Standing Committee and Social Welfare Department to engage with members of civil society in this regard has also been issued by the Law Department.

The Cabinet had already made some amendments to the Bill. Earlier, the fine for domestic violence for instance was Rs50,000 which the Cabinet later changed and increased to Rs100,000.

Moreover, the Bill also recognises not just physical violence but also psychological, emotional and verbal abuse as well as abuse propelled by economic issues, stalking and cyber crimes. It proposes that on any complaint made by an aggrieved person or an authorised agent or a District Women Protection Officer, the court may pass an interim order, protection order, residence order, and monetary order.

The protection committee will also supervise the working of Violence Against Women Centres, which is a new initiative by the government’s Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) and aims to create shelter homes, and toll-free helplines. It will also ensure all cases of violence against women registered in any of the district’s police stations are referred to VAWCs for investigation, including medical examination and collection of forensic evidence.

Speaking to Dawn, Rana Maqbool, special adviser to the CM on matters of prosecution, said the Bill took long in being brought to light because there was a “lot of opposition” faced even from within the cabinet.

“I will not take names, but there have been elements who did not like the idea of introducing this Bill, even though now they are better convinced otherwise,” he says.

He said that when influential people abused the women of their family, it was very difficult for the case to be made. But the prosecution resulting from this Bill would be impartial and also empower women who wanted to register complaints of any kind against any influential person.

Since January 2015, there has been a speeding up of conviction cases in courts, and he said conviction rate had been about 91pc.

Meanwhile, Fauzia Tariq, Programme Specialist (Violence against Women) from the UN Women, says the Bill if passed and implemented as it is aimed to be, will become a landmark development not just for Punjab but for Pakistan because then the province will become a model in its implementation.

“We have seen the political will of the Punjab government in introducing legislation on women, but we needed something covering all aspects of violence for a long time,” she says.

She adds that UN Women’s other major concern remained the amendment of age limit in the Child Marriage Bill which still showed age limit as 16 years for girls. “Our hope is that the lacunae in the Bill will soon be amended.”

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2015

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