A proposed law on domestic violence for the Islamabad Capital Territory, passed by the Senate last month, turned controversial after the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs, Babar Awan, wrote a letter to the National Assembly speaker seeking review of the bill by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII).
The CII is a constitutional body empowered under Article 230 of the Constitution to advise a House, a provincial assembly, the president or a governor on any question referred to it as to whether a proposed law is or is not repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.
Interestingly, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2021, was earlier passed by the National Assembly on April 19, 2021, and then referred to the Senate, which passed it on June 21. After its passage by the Senate, as certain minor changes were made in it, the bill was again referred to the National Assembly.
On federal level the enactment of a law to check domestic violence has been lingering on for almost a decade and now it would be further delayed.
Earlier, a bill on domestic violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was also referred to the CII, which in 2016 recommended drastic changes in it by terming several of the provisions of the said bill contrary to Islamic injunctions.
In the light of the findings of the CII, a much diluted bill was then prepared and the KP Assembly finally passed the KP Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Prot6ection) Act, 2021, on Jan 15 and it was assented to by the governor on Feb 1, 2021. The said Act was published in official Gazette on Feb 8, 2021.
In many aspects the bill passed by the Senate and earlier by the NA is almost identical to that of the laws enacted in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Few of its provisions are also identical to the law in Punjab.
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, the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016, was enacted in Feb 2016.
A provision of the Punjab law, which had drawn criticism from different circles, was about a protection order, which could be passed by a court in favour of an aggrieved person, to direct that the defendant/ accused should wear ankle or wrist GPS tracker for any act of grave violence or likely grave violence which may endanger the life, dignity or reputation of an aggrieved person.
The same provision has also been included in the federal proposed law. Different protection orders, which a court could issue under the Punjab law, have almost been completely incorporated in the federal bill.
The proposed federal law as well as the laws in Sindh and Balochistan include definition of an “aggrieved person” which means any woman, child, or 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.
Similarly, these laws and the federal bill defines a “vulnerable person” as a person with old age, mental or physical handicap or any other special reason. The Balochistan law also includes employment as a domestic servant as a vulnerable person.
The KP law does not include any definition of an “aggrieved person” and it only defines a “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 and the federal bill provide for setting up of protection committees having different composition and also appointment of protection officers assigned with different functions.
The KP Act provides for setting up of district protection committees comprising the deputy commissioner concerned, a female MPA, the 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.
While there is no provision of “protection officer” in the KP law, the laws in Balochistan and Sindh provide for appointment of protection officers, whereas that of Punjab provides for appointment of women protection officer.
The proposed federal law also provides for appointment of a male and a female protection officer by the ministry of human rights.
While the definition of child is available in the domestic violence laws of Sindh and Balochistan and the federal bill, the KP government has removed the inclusion of a “child” in its law.
Interestingly, while no other province had consulted the CII while enacting the domestic violence laws, only KP government had approached it and now Mr Babar Awan has asked the assembly’s speaker to refer the federal bill to the council.
The CII had pointed out “flaws” in almost every provision of KP bill in 2016 following which the previous provincial government, which was also of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, had reviewed it and prepared a new draft.
One of the major findings of the CII was regarding the age of the child mentioned in the earlier draft of the KP law. 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.”
Moreover, to avoid any controversy “sexual abuse” is clarified in the KP law and it is now mentioned that it does not include ordinary and natural relationship between husband and wife so committed in accordance with the injunctions of Islam.
Experts on the subject believe that referring the federal bill to CII was only aimed at delaying the enactment of the law. They question that when almost identical laws have already been enacted in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab, then what was the logic behind referring the federal bill to the council?
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2021