PESHAWAR: The women rights activists have expressed concerns over the domestic violence bill, almost ready to land on the floor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, which allows for parents and spouses to use ‘corrective measures within the constraints of the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah’.

Instead of applying to all in the domestic relationship, Article 22 of the proposed Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2016 exempts spouses and parents. Rights activists fear that the law, if passed in this form, would allow violence within the four walls of home by spouses and strict parents.

“Nothing in this Act applies to corrective measures taken by parents or spouses within the constraints of the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah,” says the proposed bill which is prepared by two members of the Women Parliamentary Caucus of the provincial assembly. A woman MPA of Jamaat-i-Islami is said to be preparing to present it in the assembly as private member’s bill soon.

Saima Munir says faulty law is more dangerous as it would not provide any relief to victims of domestic violence

“If a man beats his wife or child and calls it ‘corrective measure’ to reform them so what is the use of this,” questions Saima Munir. She feels that being a rights activist, striving for a law to curb domestic violence for last 19 years, she does not want such a dangerous law.

Ms Munir says that faulty law is more dangerous as it would not provide any relief to the victims of the domestic violence. Domestic violence is just defined in the proposed law as ‘physical violence’ but it does not take into account the psychological torture, which is a serious form of violence especially at domestic level.

The original draft of the bill was prepared by Provincial Commission on the Status of Women last year but it got stuck in law department and ended up at the table of Council of Islamic Ideology for its recommendations. The CII soon rejected the bill terming many of its articles and sections in conflict with injunctions of Islam as laid down in Quran and Sunnah.

“The CII is unfortunately very gender insensitive. They don’t think psychological violence is any serious issue,” says Ms Munir. She feels that none of the 124 members of the provincial assembly has the right mind to actually draft a law that would protect women from domestic violence.

Shabina Ayaz, heading Aurat Foundation, says that it was quiet hard to get hold of a copy of the draft. She says that the draft should have been discussed by the women rights groups and civil society. As a stakeholder, civil society should have been consulted, she adds.

After getting hold of the draft, the proposed law and going through it, Ms Ayaz feels that there are many loopholes and many things need improvement but what has shocked her the most is its Article 22. She adds that it is like undoing everything they have done so far to stop violence against women.

“During the last seven months, in just three newspapers some 188 cases of violence against women were reported. These figures speak of intensity of the violence,” she says, fearing that the proposed law will aggravate things as instead of providing protection to violence victims the law exempts spouses and parents calling their actions as ‘corrective measures’.

She calls the proposed law as one having unclear definitions, neglecting vulnerable groups like women, children and transgender persons. The Article 14 of the proposed law says: “The court, at any stage of the proceeding under the Act, may, direct the accused or aggrieved person or both to undergo mandatory counselling with an appropriate service provider.” It means way is open for conflict resolution through jirga like bodies.

Ms Ayaz also finds composition of the protection committee, suggested in the proposed law, lacking enough qualified women members.

Arshad Haroon, another rights activist, says that the proposed law is in conflict with many existing laws. “The draft shows many weaknesses and if it is passed in this form it might not prevent but I fear might increase violence at domestic level. This proposed law should not come to the floor of the provincial assembly in this form,” he adds.

Rashida Riffat, the JI lawmaker, who has prepared the draft law, explains that Sharia or Islamic law calls for resolution of conflict, especially domestic one involving spouses. That’s why she has suggested protection committee to act as advisory body having officials, religious scholars and local councillors so that they can help to resolve the issue faced by victim of domestic violence.

Ms Riffat says that she expects soon the bill will be tabled in the provincial assembly.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017

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