[JURIST] Pakistan's National Assembly [official website], the lower house of parliament, passed the 2006 Protection of Women Bill [BBC report] Wednesday, transferring rape case jurisdiction from religious Sharia [Wikipedia backgrounder] courts to civil courts. The bill also classifies rape under the penal code and makes it easier for women in Pakistan [JURIST news archive] to prove rape allegations. Religious leaders decried the legislation, saying it will lead to an increase in adultery, while other conservatives expressed fear that it will "westernize the country." Women's and human rights groups praised the bill, noting the inherent discrimination and the inadequacy of the Sharia system in a country where, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [official website], rapes are perpetrated every two hours and gang rapes every eight hours. If the upper house of parliament and President Pervez Musharraf [official website; BBC profile] approve the bill, Sharia law will no longer apply to rape cases, but civil and Sharia courts will share jurisdiction over adultery claims.
Currently, rape and adultery are both prosecuted under the Hudood Ordinances [Pakistan government backgrounder], requiring rape victims to present at least four male witnesses to evade prosecution for adultery, which can be punished with lashing, stoning, and death. Parliament had postponed consideration [JURIST report] of a revised version of the bill in September due to opposition. BBC News has more.