Like previous years, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign remained in focus across the country as special events and activities were organised in this regard on the government and civil society levels. This international campaign starts from Nov 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on Dec 10, the International Human Rights Day.
The representatives of governments and civil society organisations renewed their commitments to strive for the elimination of gender-based violence. Despite claims made by the federal and provincial governments, cases of violence against women continue to persist in the society. During last over a decade the successive governments had been focusing on legislation related to issues of violence against women. While several laws were introduced in this regard, various other laws are in the pipeline in country, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Legal experts believe that there is still a long way to go for implementing the said laws.
In early 2005, the then government enacted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act (Act No 1 of 2005) to check the inhuman customary practices of honour killing, swara and vani. That law was passed by the Parliament and had appeared in official gazette on Jan 11, 2005. Through that law various amendments were made in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
The said amendments for the first time provided definition of honour-related crimes in the PPC, which states: “Offence committed in the name or on the pretext of honour means an offence committed in the name or on the pretext of karo kari, siyah kari or similar other customs or practices.”
Similarly, the inhuman practice of giving females to rival groups in marriages for settling blood feuds was also declared a penal offence punishable with up to 10 years rigorous imprisonment. Subsequently, the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Women Protection Act was enacted on Nov 30, 2006. Through that law changes were made in the controversial Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979, and adultery and fornication were turned into non-cognisable offences. Now under the law a complaint has to be filed before the concerned court which has to decide to initiate proceedings in the case if sufficient evidence is available.
Two other laws were passed in 2010 aimed at checking harassment of women in public and at workplace. The first law, Criminal law (Amendment) Act, 2010, was passed by the Parliament and given assent by the President of Pakistan on Jan 30, 2010. Through this law amendments were made in Section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Schedule II of CrPC.
The amendments made harassment at workplace a penal offence punishable with up to three years imprisonment or with fine of up to Rs500,000. One major objection on this amendment is that the lawmakers have maintained its status as non-cognizable offence and the police had no powers to arrest a person without warrant under the CrPC.
Later the same year, the first exclusive law on the same issue was enacted. The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, received the assent of the President of Pakistan on Mar 9, 2010. The law provides for appointment of ombudsperson on both federal and provincial levels.
A comprehensive definition of “harassment” is given in this law. Harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment.
It is now binding that each organisation shall constitute an inquiry committee within 30 days of the enactment of the law to enquire into complaints of harassment.
Another important legislation was the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2011 (Acid Crime Act) which was enacted in Dec 2011. This law is aimed at checking the crime of throwing acid or any other corrosive substance on women.
Previously, there was no specific provision available in the law for checking such like crimes. It provides for maximum sentence of life imprisonment and minimum sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment with fine of Rs1 million for the offence of hurting a person with corrosive substances including acid.
Through this Act certain amendments were made in the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Another law, Criminal law (Third Amendment) Act, 2011, was introduced in Dec 2011. This law introduced certain amendments in the PPC and CrPC. It provides for punishment for depriving women of their share of hereditary property; imposing forced marriage on a woman; and arranging marriage of a woman with Quran. The law is also aimed at checking the practices of swara and vani, or otherwise giving females as badl-e-sulh.
The present government last year passed Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act 2016, through which more amendments were made in PPC and CrPC to prevent honour-related offences.
A major development in 2000 was the setting up of the National Commission on the Status of Women under the NCSW Ordinance 2000. Subsequently, the said ordinance was replaced with the NCSW Act 2012 in which a more elaborate mechanism has now been provided for appointment of the chairperson and members of the commission.
On provincial level, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took lead from other provinces by setting up the commission in 2010. Later, in 2016 the KP Commission on the Status of Women Act was passed, which replaced the earlier law of 2010.
In connection with the 16 Days of Activism the KP government recently announced formation of district committees on the status of women in 23 of the districts.
Experts say that only the Women Protection Act of 2006 has shown some positive results as previously women prisoners charged for adultery and fornication outnumbered other female prisoners in other offences in the country. They believe that other pro-women laws specially the one dealing with honour-killing failed to achieve the desired results.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2017