THE PTI government has evidently decided there is no time to lose in bringing about legislation to curb the incidence of rape in the country. To that end, the federal cabinet in a meeting chaired by the prime minister on Tuesday approved in principle two anti-rape ordinances. These expand the definition of rape and incorporate within it the terms ‘transgender’ and ‘gang-rape’, and widen the scope of punishment to include chemical castration. The proposed legislation also bans the humiliating and controversial two-finger test in rape cases, and mandates the establishment of rape crisis centres and special courts to try alleged perpetrators.

A series of bone-chilling rape cases of late have left the public shaken and the government scrambling to appear proactive. There was, for example, the gang rape late one night in September of a woman in front of her children while they were stranded in their stalled car on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway. Earlier this month, a mother and her minor daughter were raped over two days in Kashmore, Sindh, an incident particularly horrific in its details.

The law can often do with improvements to close loopholes, remove ambiguities etc, all with the objective of enabling justice to be done. Thus the expansion of the currently narrow definition of rape in terms of what acts constitute this crime and who can be defined as victims is an appropriate step. However, the proposal of chemical castration is problematic, especially on practical grounds.

The procedure is employed in several countries and some parts of the US to reduce recidivism rates, but it is no ‘quick fix’. Offered to paedophiles as an option in exchange for more lenient prison sentences or as a condition of parole, the treatment — which is not inexpensive — is only effective while it is continued. Several rights’ advocates also contend that castration of rapists is based on a misunderstanding of the crime of rape, which is about power — not sexual gratification. Rather than the severity of punishment, which may satisfy populist objectives, the best deterrent is certainty of punishment, and for that the quality of investigation must be improved.

Mercifully, the cabinet in Tuesday’s meeting decided against hanging rapists publicly, as advocated by some lawmakers. While Dawn is opposed to capital punishment in any form, it can be argued that the death penalty as punishment for rape can put victims at greater risk of being silenced forever by their attackers. Moreover, Pakistan is increasingly drifting away from its claim upon partially lifting the moratorium on capital punishment in December 2014 that it would apply it only to those convicted of terrorism. Finally, one must question why the government is planning more legislation by ordinance. The proposed legal changes should go through the normal, democratic procedure of being tabled in parliament, debated and then enacted as law. This expediency serves no purpose.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2020

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