Anurag Singh, student at National Law University in Delhi, and Saloni Neema, student at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University in Visakhapatnam, discuss the delayed agenda relating to Pakistan's domestic violence bill...
Domestic violence cases have spiked worldwide during the pandemic. The situation is no different in Pakistan, where cultural and social factors further aggravate the crisis. Several studies show a substantial rise in domestic violence cases in Pakistan during the pandemic. Recently, Noor Mukadam, the daughter of Pakistan’s former ambassador to South Korea, was recently brutally murdered in Islamabad by an acquaintance. Unfortunately, even after such an alarming rate of heinous incidents, there has been an unwanted delay in addressing the amendments to the Pakistan Domestic Violence Bill, 2021 (hereinafter referred to as “the bill”) that seeks to safeguard the vulnerable groups.
The bill received a green signal in the lower house but was rejected by one vote in the Senate. It was subsequently sent to a standing committee for recommendations. However, at present, the legislation has been halted by the CII (Council of Islamic Ideology) for a review pursuant to concerns about various provisions of the bill. The whole process has sparked widespread opposition all across the nation.
According to the study “Tracking Numbers: State Abuse Against Women and Children in Pakistan,” 1,422 instances of domestic violence occurred in Pakistan during the second half of the year 2020. The severity of the crisis is underestimated as a number of cases remain unreported. The lack of data on the actual number of instances of domestic violence creates a misleading picture of such a grave issue. Recently, a man in Sindh’s southern region burned his wife to death. In Shikarpur, a man fatally murdered his wife, aunt, and two minor daughters. In another such instance, a man in Peshawar killed two people, including his former wife, in the name of “honor“ a few weeks ago.
Such a high rate of domestic violence may even be ascribed to Pakistan’s patriarchal setup, which is heavily reliant on men. Spending more time at home with the abusive partner has rendered the aggrieved more vulnerable to violence. The possibility of another COVID outbreak may send the nation into another state of lockdown, confining the aggrieved to the dark corners of the home. Yet, there is a delay in actually addressing the amendments by the government.
The bill provides for imprisonment of six months to three years for acts of domestic violence. Further, the bill seeks to establish an innovative system of domestic violence protection, relief, and rehabilitation for women, children, the elderly, and other vulnerable individuals. It also strives to support victims of domestic abuse who are connected by consanguinity, marriage, or kinship in a domestic relationship.
In comparison to other similarly placed countries, the bill provides various progressive measures. Domestic violence, for instance, can also be reported if it is committed against any vulnerable individual, regardless of their gender. In addition, the measure does not prohibit women from being the respondents in cases of domestic violence. Domestic abuse cases are also handled by a special protection committee, which is responsible for the victims’ safety and rehabilitation.
The primary contention against the bill is that it violates the Islamic way of life, as embodied in the state’s responsibilities in Article 31 of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s Constitution, which states that measures must be taken to enable Muslims in Pakistan, both individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam, as well as to provide facilities to enable them to comprehend the meaning of life as recommended by the Holy Quran and Sunnah. Under the Constitution, the Islamic Council is empowered to advise a House, a Provincial Assembly, a President, or a Governor on any subject presented to it as to whether a proposed law is or is not repugnant to the injunctions of Islam, according to Article 230 (1) (b) of the Constitution. Furthermore, under Article 230 (1) (a), the body can make recommendations to Parliament about how to encourage Muslims in Pakistan to live their lives in accordance with Islamic values, both individually and collectively.
However, pertaining to the ideology of CII, sending the bill to CII for review can pose a significant threat to the progressive measures as embodied in the bill. In 2016, CII suggested allowing a husband to ‘lightly’ beat up his wife if he deems necessary. Furthermore, the council ruled that Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government’s women protection law was un-Islamic. The strings of a bill of utmost priority in the country should not be handed over to CII to create unnecessary delay and debate. More so, given the response of CII in the previous few years, this is not a welcome step as the same may go against the spirit of law and justice at large.
Additionally, it is pertinent to note that Article 25 of the Constitution provides for equality before the law and equal protection from the law. Moreover, it states that nothing in this article precludes the state from enacting specific measures for the protection of women and children. Further, if required, the state can implement special provisions for the protection of women and children under Articles 25(3) and 26(2). The said bill in contention is one of such major steps taken by the government for the realization of basic human rights.
In a dissenting view, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (Ji) both rejected the bill, claiming that it poses a threat to the country’s social and cultural norms. In opposition to the bill, they argue that the husband, in the role of the head of the family, has the power to fulfill needs and nurture the family. For the fulfillment of this objective, the person may even admonish or discipline them. This statement in itself is contradictory as it seeks to achieve the nurturing of the family by using domestic violence as a means. While highlighting Islam’s approach to marriage, they claim that the male may be permitted to beat his wife. They are trying to justify the act of mild beating by citing cultural and societal norms, which in reality do not provide a legitimate justification for such acts. The opposition also argues that such acts are the private conduct of the families and that the law should not intervene in their private matters. This argument tried to portray a misleading image as a defense for their ill motives. The privacy of a family does not give a person the right to abuse and dominate the other members of their household. There has to be a reasonable consensus between both of them. The bill here attempts to involve the legal justice system in reducing domestic violence.
Some people have gone so far as to suggest that the wife may be regarded as the husband’s property and that the male in this situation has the right to control his wife. This statement repeats the traditional belief that males are superior to women, which is absolutely false. Furthermore, referring to women as objects of possession is the lowest point to which the opposition might fall in order to justify the current abuses. These arguments and suggestions in opposition are neither reasonable nor logical, and they must be challenged at the earliest by putting legal measures in place. The entire idea of a “patriarchal society,” which portrays men as decision-makers, is being used to oppose and undermine the law. The opposition fails to make a sound assumption that the same society is majorly the reason behind the requirement of such an act.
On the international front, Pakistan, as a signatory to the UN CEDAW Committee (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women), is obligated to ensure adequate remedy for any infringement of women’s rights. This obligation necessitates the government to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women diligently. Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which forms a cornerstone of international humanitarian law, requires governments to protect the right to life and security of all individuals in their jurisdiction, regardless of race, religion, or gender.
Invisible barriers, such as societal honor and culture, have been a significant impediment in fulfilling women’s rights in the nation. However, it is crucial to highlight that the country also falls short in actual enforcement of the laws in place to safeguard women. Even after the Domestic Violence Bill of 2012, there was not much difference in the domestic violence cases. Organizations such as SSDO (Sustainable Social Development Organization) have advocated for stringent implementation of legislation to safeguard women and children in the area.
Regulatory bodies in the country must take action in order to perform official surveys on domestic violence throughout the country. A societal issue such as domestic violence is difficult to be completely addressed with one-time legislation. It should rather be assessed and monitored on a regular basis to account for implementation issues and obstructions. Furthermore, there is a need for a mindset change among the people of the country that has already fallen to the bottom of the chart in terms of gender parity. Given the current circumstances, there seems to be no room for delay in adopting this law of critical importance. Therefore, it is high time to enact this bill and ensure its actual implementation, thus realizing the basic human rights of the women and other vulnerable groups in the region.
Anurag Singh is a student at the National Law University in Delhi.
Saloni Neema is a student at the Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University in Visakhapatnam.
Suggested citation: Anurag Singh and Saloni Neema, Analyzing Pakistan’s Domestic Violence Bill: A Delayed Agenda, JURIST – Student Commentary, August 6, 2021, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2021/08/Anurag-Singh-Saloni-Neema-Pakistan-domestic-violence-bill/.
This article was prepared for publication by Katherine Gemmingen, Commentary Co-Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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