IN 2016, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) was introduced in Pakistan with the aim of curbing online offences, like fraud, cyber stalking and harassment. It is pertinent to analyse the practical implementation and effectiveness of this piece of legislation since its promulgation.
Gender-based violence is defined by the United Nations as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects woman disproportionately”.
This includes physical, sexual and/or emotional harm. Gender-based cybercrimes include cyber stalking, cyber harassment and cyber bullying. All these offences have been described in PECA as avoidance of hate speech, unwanted online messages, making sexual and offensive advances through social networking websites.
Certain recent cases have shown that Pakistan needs to protect women and children on the internet through various online social applications. Cyber harassment has exacerbated after the Covid pandemic since millions of people were forced to shift to online systems. According to recent data, the cyber harassment helpline in Pakistan received 4,441 online harassment complaints in 2021.
The majority of these complaints was from women. The most common platforms of online harassment are Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Currently, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is the only platform dealing with cyber harassment cases.
There is a strong need for deploying more workforce to deal with all the cases effectively since the number of such cases has gone way past the capacity of the current workforce.
For example, in Karachi alone, nearly 1,500 cyber harassment cases are currently pending with the FIA. Most of these complaints are from women against their former husbands and fiancés, who had been using women’s personal pictures or videos in order to blackmail them in various ways for various purposes.
This steep rise in online cyber harassment cases is a reflection of misogyny and patriarchy in the offline world in Pakistan. This alarming situation clearly calls for recommendations by policymakers and law enforcement agencies in order to manage the issues of cyber harassment and abuse in the country.
It is significant to analyse several drastic negative effects on women of online harassment, such as depression, anxiety, decreased socialising, fear of harm or threats. All these need immediate medical attention and treatment through relevant professionals.
There are several recommendations that can be made to counter the online harassment issue. There should be cyber harassment awareness workshops and seminars.
Besides, parents should educate their children about the dos and don’ts of social media while giving them access to the internet. Finally, we need robust laws and their strict implementation regarding fake and dual accounts used for cyber harassment of any kind against anyone.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022