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Supreme Court of Pakistan. - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court issued orders on Tuesday to the provincial chief secretaries and inspectors general of police to ensure that girls and women were not exchanged to settle disputes through jirgas.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, had taken up a petition of Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), Anis Haroon, against the jirga system and a case filed earlier by anthropologist Samar Minallah against the ‘swara’ custom.

The court noted that no one had appeared to represent the respondents. Notices had been issued to the law and interior secretaries and chief secretaries of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The chief secretaries and police chiefs were ordered to take measures against violation of Section 310A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) by initiating action against members of jirgas and punchayats. The section was introduced in compliance with a Supreme Court order after 2006 to provide a maximum punishment of 10-year rigorous imprisonment for giving a woman or girl in marriage to settle a dispute.

In her petition, Ms Haroon said 87 jirgas were held in Sindh last year and 26 girls and women were exchanged for settling disputes. The district administrations did not appear to be interested in taking action against violators of women’s fundamental rights.

The court asked the IGs to submit a report by April 12 about jirgas held in their provinces.

The police will also furnish comprehensive statements about cases registered under Article 310A in the provinces and in Islamabad, including the names of the accused and the cases filed in different courts.

The apex court ordered circulation of its order of April 24, 2006, to the registrars of the high courts and presidents and general secretaries of district and tehsil bar associations to set up legal aid committees that should help the victims in cases of vani and swara.

In its judgment, the court had asked the government to amend Section 310 of the PPC or insert a provision into the Family Act of 1964 to dissolve marriages conducted under vani.

The Punjab police chief was ordered to proceed against five policemen who gang raped a college girl in Sheikhupura on Friday and submit a report to the court’s registrar in three days. The five are at large.The court also took up individual instances of swara and vani and issued separate orders.