The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly is set to pass the first-ever bill on domestic violence in the province in its current session, which will resume on Jan 11, 2021.
After lingering for many years, the provincial government had tabled the KP Domestic Violence against Women Bill, 2019, in the assembly on Feb 11, 2019, and on Oct 14, 2019, it was referred to a select committee of the assembly as MPAs of opposition Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) had expressed reservations about certain of its provisions.
Though the present bill is a much diluted version of drafts of earlier bills prepared by the government in 2014 and 2015, civil society members have been attaching a lot of expectations to it.
Several of them believe that enactment of an exclusive law on domestic violence is need of the hour and even passage of the bill in its present form will be a welcome step.
Presently, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the only province in the country not having an exclusive law on domestic violence as the issue continued to draw criticism from certain quarters due to which drastic changes were made in the present bill compared to earlier versions.
Sindh was the first province where the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013, was enacted in March 2013. In Balochistan, the assembly had passed The Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2014, in Feb 2014. Similarly, in Punjab the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016, was enacted in Feb 2016.
Like KP, no exclusive law on domestic violence has so far been enacted on federal level for Islamabad. In July last year the government had tabled Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2020, for Islamabad, but that bill has yet to be passed by the parliament.
Unlike the laws in other three provinces, there is no definition of an “aggrieved person” given in the proposed KP law and it carries definition of a “victim”.
The laws in Sindh and Balochistan include definition of an “aggrieved person” which means any woman, child, or any vulnerable person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the accused and who alleges to have been subjected to any act of domestic violence by the accused. The Balochistan’s law also includes a “man” as aggrieved person.
These laws define a “vulnerable person” as a person who is vulnerable due to old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason. The law of Balochistan also include employment as a domestic servant as a vulnerable person.
The KP proposed law only mentions definition of “victim” as the woman against whom domestic violence has been committed. The law in Punjab also only includes a woman as an aggrieved person.
Almost all of these laws provide for setting up of protection committees having different composition and also appointment of protection officers.
Under the laws in other three provinces, the concerned court is empowered to issue a protection order in favour of an aggrieved person if it is satisfied that any violence has been committed or is likely to be committed and issue certain directives to the accused/defendant.
The KP Bill provides for setting up of district protection committees comprising concerned deputy commissioner as chairperson and other members, including executive district officer, health, district officer social welfare, district public prosecutor, a representative of district police officer, two persons from civil society, district khateeb, a gynaecologist, a psychologist and chairperson of the concerned District Committee on the Status of Women, who will also serve as its secretary.
The laws in Balochistan and Sindh provide for appointment of protection officers, whereas that of Punjab provides for appointment of women protection officer. However, there is no provision of protection officer in the KP Bill.
While the definition of child is available in the domestic violence laws of Sindh and Balochistan, the KP government has removed the inclusion of a “child” in the proposed law so as to avoid any controversy by the religious circles.
Unlike other provinces, which had enacted their respective laws without consulting the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), the previous KP government, also of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, had referred the earlier draft of the proposed law to CII. The council had pointed out “flaws” in almost every provision of that draft in 2016 following which the government had prepared a new draft.
In the light of the findings of the council, the provincial government had made changes in the earlier version of Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill in 2016.
One of the major findings of CII was regarding age of the child mentioned in the earlier draft. In the earlier draft, a child was defined as “any person under the age of eighteen years living in a domestic relationship with the accused and includes any adopted, step or foster child.”
The previous draft also carried a very comprehensive definition of “Domestic Violence”, including several sub-sections and provisions of Pakistan Penal Code. That definition included different aspects of domestic violence, including emotional, psychological and verbal abuse; harassment; physical abuse; stalking; sexual abuse; trespass; economic abuse; wrongful confinement; criminal force; criminal intimidation; assault; etc.
Now the definition of “Domestic Violence” in the bill includes: “the violence committed by the accused against the victim with whom the accused is in a domestic relationship.”
After certain amendments proposed by MMA, ‘Violence” is now defined as an act or conduct of the accused which results in any physical, psychological, emotional and economic abuse to the complainant and also includes but not limited to abetment, assault, criminal force, criminal intimidation, hurt, mischief, harassment, sexual abuse and wrongful confinement as defined in Pakistan Penal Code.
“Economic abuse” is defined as denial of food, clothing or shelter in domestic relationship to the victim by the accused under legal obligation in accordance with the accused income.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2021