October 5th, 2020

By Haider Kaleem


Following the Lahore-Sialkot motorway gang-rape incident during the wee hours of September 10, there has been a notable increase in reports of sexual violence and rape against women across the country.

Although there is no dearth of severe penalties for those found guilty of rape and other violent crimes against women, investigative processes and follow-up procedures are not only profoundly deficient but are also needlessly complex and agonizingly drawn-out that the affected party either forgo registering their case or give up before the case is even resolved.

In order to better investigate crimes against women, as well as ensure that survivors do not suffer any emotional and mental toll during the investigation of their cases, the Government of Pakistan introduced a series of amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and Pakistan Penal Code in 2016. These amendments directed that crimes against women would either be investigated by a female officer if possible or at least in the presence of a relative, social worker, or someone nominated by the victim.

In this regard, the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Lahore High Court in their verdicts issued guidelines to the police during the investigation into such cases. Although the relevant laws and regulations were formulated, there is little evidence to suggest much, if anything, has changed in reality.

Sabahat Rizvi, a criminal lawyer, found that the issue did not lie with the law but with the entire justice system, which rather than ensuring the rule of law instead buffers and strengthens patriarchal norms and values. Regarding proposals by special courts for expeditious hearings into cases of violence against women and rape, she denounced the idea, calling it a show of strength.

During a seminar on the very issue, conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Friday, October 2, lawyer and social activist Hiba Akbar pointed out that women’s characters are a more popular topic than the evidence in incidents of sexual abuse and violence, and that the state, as well as political parties, were the least interested in matters concerning the protection and welfare of women.

Commenting on the role of political parties on the issue, a member of the Punjab Assembly (PML-N) and lawmaker Malik Ahmad Khan acknowledged that it was the need of the hour to address the multiple legal loopholes in existing laws in the assemblies, but it seemed like political parties are all but waiting for the next tragedy before they can be bothered to do anything about it.

According to Abid Saqi, Vice-Chair of the Pakistan Bar Council, cases of crimes against women is plagued with social hurdles in addition to legal ones.

One of the major reasons for the increase in crimes against women in Pakistan is the low conviction rate, most commonly due to a severe lack of police training, discipline, and sensitivity from registering cases to conducting investigations.