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After passage of the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill, 2016, by the Punjab Assembly on Feb 24, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is now the only province left where no law has so far been enacted to deal with domestic violence. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has referred the draft of its proposed Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2014 to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) several months ago seeking its advice under Article 229 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The government now awaits the response of the council and there is no possibility of enactment of the law in near future.

Under Article 230 (1) (b) of the Constitution the functions of CII also include to advise a House, a Provincial Assembly, the President or a governor on any question referred to the council as to whether proposed law is or is not repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.

Furthermore, under sub-section 3 of Article 230 where a provincial assembly considers that, in the public interest, the making of the proposed law in relation to which the question arose should not be postponed until the advice of the council is furnished, the law may be made before the advice is furnished.

Sindh was the first where the provincial assembly had passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act on March 8, 2013 and then approved by the governor on March 12 the same year. Similarly, in Balochistan the assembly had passed The Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act on Feb 1, 2014 which was signed by the governor on Feb 11, 2014.

The draft bill of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the laws enacted by Sindh and Balochistan provinces were almost identical with slight variations. The law of Punjab was different in certain aspects from that of Sindh and Balochistan. While the enacted laws as well as the proposed KP law had been drawing criticism from certain quarters, including religious circles, the Act of Punjab has drawn more criticism compared to that of Sindh and Balochistan’.

One major difference between these laws is that the newly-enacted law of Punjab has declared only a woman as aggrieved person whereas in that of Sindh an aggrieved person also means a child or any other vulnerable person. The law of Balochistan and the KP proposed law in the definition of aggrieved person also include a man, apart from a woman, child or vulnerable person, who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the accused or defendant and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the accused/ defendant.

Furthermore, the definition of “domestic violence” given in the laws of Sindh and Balochistan is very comprehensive, including several sub-sections and also provisions of Pakistan Penal Code. This definition includes different aspects of domestic violence, including emotional, psychological and verbal abuse; harassment; physical abuse; stalking; sexual abuse; trespass; economic abuse; wrongful confinement; criminal force; criminal intimidation; assault; etc.

The recently-passed law of Punjab includes a vague definition of “domestic violence” terming it violence committed by the defendant with whom the aggrieved is living or has lived in a house when they are related to each other by consanguinity, marriage or adoption. The law defines “violence” as any offence committed against a woman, including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime.

In Sindh‘s law different penalties have been given for different forms of domestic violence, while no such penalties are available in the laws of Punjab and Balochistan. In these two laws, the only penalties are available for breach of protection order issued by the court. In the proposed law of KP both penalties are available for domestic violence as well as breach of a court’s protection order.

Moreover, the laws of Balochistan and Sindh include provisions related to protection committees having different composition and also appointment of protection officers assigned with different functions. In the Punjab law there are provisions of district women protection committee and district woman protection officers.

Under all the three laws the concerned court is empowered to issue a protection order in favour of an aggrieved person if it is satisfied that any violence has been committed or is likely to be committed and issue certain directives to the accused/ defendant.

In the Punjab law an interesting provision is related to the wearing of a tracker by a defendant. The court is empowered to issue directives to a defendant to “wear ankle or wrist bracelet GPS tracker to track the movement of the defendant round the clock.”

Experts believe that no such provision has presently been available in any other law in vogue in the country and apparently implementation of such provisions is very difficult.

One of the identical provisions is related to issuance of a residence order by the court, under which the court is empowered to direct that an aggrieved person shall not be evicted, save in accordance with law, from the house. The Punjab’s law further provides that an aggrieved person may be relocated from the house to the shelter home for purpose of relief, protection and rehabilitation.

This law also includes provision for establishing protection centres and shelter homes under a phased programme.

Social activists and legal experts wonder how a law, which is not considered repugnant to Islam in rests of the three provinces, has been sent by the KP government to the CII to seek its advice. “Even if the advice of the CII has not been submitted so far, the government has the constitutional powers to introduce the bill in the assembly and enact the required law,” said Shahnawaz Khan, an advocate of the Supreme Court.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016