Animal rights in Pakistan

Report By 

Ahmed Saeed

&

Asra Haque

Lack of legislation for the protection of animals’ rights in Pakistan has led to the direst of situations where abuse and neglect have left these voiceless creatures at the mercy of others – especially during the lockdown. Voicepk.net speaks to Karachi’s Ayesha Chundrigar about how her organization ACF is doing rescue work

Pictures of a dog with bullet wounds on its neck and face surface online; then more evidence of an alarming increase of violence and cruelty against animals emerge, amidst the prevailing lock-down.

This canine was lucky enough to have been picked up by animal rescue shelter, the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation (ACF), and is now undergoing treatment. It is perhaps among the lucky few that will survive, and will be cared for until it is adopted out to a loving family.

But not all such animals are as fortunate.

For many, animal abuse may as well be considered a non-issue especially amidst other concerns such as human rights abuses, poverty, unemployment and lack of education.

It is a hard reality that animal rights have had to accept, and yet, it is the very driving force behind the rescue efforts of animal welfare organizations and activists, such as ACF.

Founded in 2014 by Ayesha Chundrigar the purpose was to give a voice to the sufferings of beast-kind in Pakistan. The Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation is now perhaps the most well-known among a handful of non-profit animal welfare and rescue organizations. The organization has built a strong rapport with the Sindh government, has played a notable role in pushing for legislation on the elimination of dog-culling in Sindh. ACF is also a known collaborator with local authorities in carrying out rabies vaccination drives and trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs to control dog populations in Sindh humanely and compassionately.

ACF rabies vaccination drive
ACF rabies vaccination drive

However, ACF’s continued success is not without its obstacles. The rescue relies on donations from kind strangers, but such charity can fund only so much. With limited finances, they must also make do with what little equipment they possess to carry out mass vaccination drives – a job that is the local authority’s to perform. Moreover, dozens of animals keep coming in nearly every day, requiring intensive and costly medical care, and space in a shelter that seems to be perpetually full.

Yet, ACF has no choice but to take them all in, as no one else would.

Pakistan has only a single law concerned with the welfare of animals in the wild and in captivity both:

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was promulgated in 1890, amid colonial rule. Since Independence, the only other evidence of progress in animal welfare was a 2018 amendment in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, whereby the fines prescribed for violations were increased.”

An important aspect of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 is “sentience”. Animals are legally recognized as sentient beings, that is, creatures capable of experiencing pain and pleasure. And as sentient beings, they are due to certain rights that human beings must proffer.

The existence of this law, however, is no guarantee that animal rights are recognized in practice in Pakistan. And to say that this singular law alone is sufficient and scrupulous is a far stretch. It accounts for wildlife and animals in captivity, such as cattle, beasts of burden and pets. Strays and other urban animals fall into neither category, which means their existence is not defined in the law. They are simply beyond the purview of the one law geared toward animal welfare and protection. So if under the law they do not exist the challenge to protect is even greater.

But in the time of COVID- 19 all those protected by law and all animals not even recognized face extreme cruelty. The prevailing state-imposed lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 forced traders to close up shop and remain indoors for an undetermined amount of time. It so happened that pet shop owners in Empress Market in Karachi and Tollington Market in Lahore also sealed their stores, leaving hundreds of caged animals without food, water or ventilation for days on end!

Rescued animals from empress market

Posted by ACF Animal Rescue on Sunday, March 29, 2020

By the second week of the lockdown, animal rescue groups and volunteers managed to convince local authorities to lift shutters and retrieve dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds that had been crying in distress for days on end. Only a handful of them was still breathing – more died in the following days, too weak to respond to medical treatment.

In Lahore, rescuers found cats and puppies which were dumped by store owners into an open sewage channel near the Tollington market. Some were alive but others having spent days in severely unhygienic conditions and under the pouring rains had died or did not survive after being rescued. No one, to date, has been charged for the maltreatment and negligence of these animals.

Despite the bleak reality of animal welfare in Pakistan, Ayesha Chundrigar is hopeful that humanity is capable of compassion. With every act of cruelty she shares online to followers, she implores people to practice kindness to beast-kind.

It is, perhaps, the most she can hope for.

ACF donation and rescue details
ACF donation and rescue details