LAHORE: Punjab’s first ever Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) is scheduled to start functioning at Multan from January next year, to provide legal and medical aid, protection and relief to women who suffer violence.

The ground-breaking ceremony of the centre was held on October 28, and its construction is now complete. The construction of a shelter home to be integrated with the centre is also expected to start by the end of month December.

The centre is being established under the Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016, masterminded by Salman Sufi, who heads the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (Law and Order).

The first VAWC is being opened in Multan as the southern region has the highest rate of crime against women.

According to officials, two prosecutors and 39 police officials have been appointed for the centre. The staff has already received gender sensitivity and initial software trainings. A real time key-stroke monitoring software integrates different sections at VAWC. The second phase of these trainings was going to be held shortly, they said.

The police officials deputed at the centre include the first ever woman Superintendent of Police (SP) Shahida Nasreen who will supervise investigation of all cases brought to the Multan VAWC. An Additional IG (women protection) will also be appointed in this month as well.

The remaining posts at VAWC, including those of managerial staff, medical officers and psychologists, had been advertised and interviews of candidates would be held within two weeks, the officials said.

Candidates for the slots of district women protection officer, women protection officers and the non-official members of Multan’s District Women Protection Committee would also be interviewed during this month, they added.

The trainings of the remaining human resource would be conducted as soon as their hiring was finalised, the officials said.

They said all staff at the VAWC, including the prosecutors and police officials, were being selected on the basis of their experience and sensitivity towards the women’ issues. Furniture, health equipment, IT and security related gadgets were being procured, they added.

The first draft of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for VAWC and draft rules of the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016 had been prepared and were now being evaluated with technical assistance from University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Law Clinic as per an MoU signed earlier.

The centre aims at improving the criminal justice system in the country. Such centres will also be established in all districts. They will have police investigation, prosecution and legal aid and medical examination services.

The centres will also be responsible for collection of forensic and other evidence, besides offering mental health and counseling services, and post-trauma rehabilitation under one roof, to increase complainants’ access to justice.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2016

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