Cabinet committee approves 'historic' anti-rape legislation providing for harsh punishments

Published November 26, 2020
A cabinet committee meeting chaired by Law Minister Farogh Naseem approved the two anti-rape ordinances. — INP/File
A cabinet committee meeting chaired by Law Minister Farogh Naseem approved the two anti-rape ordinances. — INP/File

The Cabinet Committee on Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC) on Thursday approved two anti-rape ordinances aimed at setting up special courts for sexual offences against women and children and introducing harsher punishments for convicts.

The Ministry of Law and Justice also officially revealed the salient features of the two ordinances, which expand the definition of rape and introduce the concept of chemical castration "mainly as a form of rehabilitation".

"As [the] world marks the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the PTI-led government in Pakistan is all set to promulgate historic anti-rape legislation to set up special courts for rape and other sexual offences against women and children," a statement issued by the ministry said.

Editorial: Chemical castration of rapists is no 'quick fix', the quality of investigation must be improved

According to the press release, a meeting of the CCLC chaired by Law Minister Farogh Naseem green-lighted the ordinances, which the federal cabinet had approved in principle on Wednesday. Information Minister Shibli Faraz had told a press conference the ordinances would be finalised in a week.

"This is an important moment in Pakistan’s legislative history, and [for] the protection of rights of women, girls and children across the country," the law ministry said, adding that Naseem had "worked extensively" to finalise the legislation with his team's assistance over the course of this month.

According to the ministry, the two "state-of-the-art pieces of legislation" — the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance, 2020 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 — were in line with the constitutional guarantees of Pakistan as well as international treaties the country has signed.

The laws, which according to the ministry provide mechanisms to arrest rape and sexual abuse crimes against women and children, will now be placed before the cabinet for final approval before being sent to the president to be promulgated. In the 90 days following that, the ordinances must be submitted to the parliament for ratification.

Salient features of the draft Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance, 2020:

  • Establishment of special courts
  • Creation of Anti-Rape Crisis Cells to be headed by commissioners or deputy commissioners, who will ensure prompt registration of the first information report, medical examination, forensic analysis, etc.
  • Abolishing the "inhumane and degrading" two-finger virginity test for rape victims during medico-legal examinations, and eliminating any attachment of probative value to it
  • Putting a bar on the cross-examination of a rape victim by the accused, thereby only allowing the judge and the accused’s lawyers to cross-examine the victim
  • In-camera trials
  • Protection for the victim and witnesses
  • Use of modern devices during investigation and trial
  • Provision of legal assistance to the victims through the Legal Aid and Justice Authority
  • Creation of Independent Support Advisers, who will provide support to the victims
  • Appointment of special prosecutors for the special courts
  • Investigation by joint investigation teams headed by district police officers
  • Creation of a special committee on pro bono basis to ensure overall implementation of the law
  • Rules to be issued by the prime minister upon the recommendation of the special committee for the purposes of issuing medico-legal examination and investigation and prosecution guidelines based on the latest modern techniques and devices
  • Maintenance of data of sex offenders' register through NADRA
  • A public reporting mechanism

Salient features of the draft Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020:

  • Substitution of the existing Section 375 of the Pakistan Penal Code with a new provision so as to provide a new definition of “rape”, which would extend to females of all ages and male victims under the age of 18 years
  • In addition to rape, the offence of gang-rape has also been "considered to be addressed"
  • In respect of first or repeated offenders, the concept of chemical castration has also been introduced "mainly as a form of rehabilitation, and subject to consent"

'Closing all loopholes

On Tuesday, the law minister had told reporters that since the parliament was not in session, an ordinance would be promulgated to "toughen the laws" against rapists.

"The penalties include death penalty, imprisonment for [the] entire life, 10 to 25 years of imprisonment and chemical castration," a statement by the law ministry had quoted Naseem as saying.

The minister said an offender could be subjected to chemical castration that would last either "for some time or for life".

The idea of severe penalties was first floated by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had said during a television interview in September that rapists should either be hanged publicly or chemically castrated to curb rising sex crimes.

His statement had come in the wake of the motorway gang-rape incident that caused an outpouring of anger across the country and brought sexual violence against women into national focus.

After an incident involving the alleged rape of a woman and her minor daughter in Sindh's Kashmore district, the premier earlier this month announced that the government would bring a “stringent and holistic anti-rape ordinance closing all loopholes”.



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