January 12th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Women activists have questioned the secrecy surrounding the final draft of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence Bill that is set to be passed in the current season of the provincial assembly, after a delay of seven years.
The provincial government had first tabled a draft bill on prevention of domestic violence in 2014, followed by another draft in 2015. Dogged by lingering delays, the provincial government tabled the KP Domestic Violence against Women Bill, 2019, in the assembly on Feb 11, 2019. The draft bill was referred to a select committee of the assembly as opposition MPAs from Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) had expressed reservations about certain provisions on October 14, 2019.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Shagufta Malik from Peshawar, a Member of Provincial Assembly from Awami National Party, said the proposed provincial law on domestic violence is pending since the last seven years, reflective of the ruling party’s non-seriousness about matters affecting women in the province. She said the ruling party had a majority in the assembly and unlike other bills, the treasury had dragged its feet on passing the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Act.
However, she said women MPAs in the opposition had protested the delay and had also given their inputs for amendments in the draft law that was tabled in February 2019. Talking about the amendments, she opposed the fine of Rs 50,000 for women who brought a false complaint under the draft law in discussions in the select committee of the provincial assembly.
“The provision was discriminatory as the fine listed for a male accused for breach of order was set much lower to Rs 30,000,” she said. Secondly, the fine for false complaints will deter victims of domestic violence from complaining against abuse.
Similarly, Shagufta Malik said, the draft law made no mention of representation of women in the district protection committees.“The representation of women is essential to making these district committees more accessible and friendlier to victims of domestic abuse who are women,” Malik said.
Lastly, the KP MPA emphasized upon her fellow legislators that psychological abuse and mental torture tend to be the foremost domestic violence faced by women victims in society.
“Male legislators had difficulty understanding how verbal abuse or mental torture can because of much suffering and grief to victims of domestic violence,” she added. According to the MPA, the select committee had approved the final draft and the bill is likely to pass in the current session.
Saima Munir, provincial manager of Aurat Foundation in Peshawar, said women activists have been canvassing for the legislation on domestic violence in the province for about 15 years.
“The legislation has become a mystery as throughout the years, a draft is tabled, referred to the select committee only to disappear altogether or the law department suddenly remembers the draft needs to be sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology from where it is received back in a distorted version,” she said.
Mehwish Kakakhel, provincial lead of the Women in Law network, said the provincial government did not share the draft law with relevant stakeholders like lawyers and activists which could have made for better legislation on domestic violence.
“If the draft law or any amendments made in the draft had been shared, the activists and lawyers could have given their input of possible legal lacunas and loopholes which could have made the legislation more comprehensive,” Kakakhel said.
She was of the opinion that it would have better to also include domestic servants especially females under domestic violence. Secondly, the proposed law should have brought out a change in the culture of police officials who are reluctant to proceed in cases of domestic violence, terming it a ‘family matter’.
“Women victims of domestic violence approach police officials to lodge a first investigation report (FIR) but the police often refuse to lodge FIRs,” Kakakhel said. Women have to often move the court for lodging of FIR in domestic violence cases, she added.
According to Musarrat Qadeem, Executive Director of Paiman Trust, the definition of a victim under the proposed legislation excluded children. “Children should have also been covered with the ambit of domestic violence,” she said.
She hoped that the proposed law on domestic violence will be finally passed by the provincial assembly despite the passage of seven years. However, she warned that mere enacting laws were not enough to ensure the protection of women from gender-based violence.
“The government must first raise awareness about such protections available to vulnerable women and secondly the enforcement authority must ensure that the special law is implemented in letter and spirit,” she added.
Cultural barriers limit female victims from complaining about domestic abuse. “Women suffer domestic abuse not just from their husband but their in-laws as well for instance the mother-in-law or the sister-in-law,” she said, that the protection mechanism envisioned under the law should give women support in reporting abuse.
Thee awareness about domestic violence should be taught in educational institutions in order to change the mindset and stigma associated with reporting such abuse, she said.
What’s in the proposed bill
According to the draft law tabled in February 2019, the proposed legislation aims to protect women from domestic violence including sexual abuse, psychological abuse, economic abuse and stalking, in the province.
Children, men excluded from domestic violence
The KP bill considers only women to be victims of domestic violence. “Victim means the women against whom domestic violence has been committed,” according to the definition of victim in the proposed legislation.
In legislation in Punjab and Sindh, the definition of an aggrieved person of victim means any woman, child, or any vulnerable person who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the accused. The law in Balochistan also includes a ‘man’ as an aggrieved person.
District protection committee
The bill calls for the setting up of district protection committees in the province. The members of the district protection will comprise of deputy commissioner as chairperson and other members, including executive district officer, health, district officer social welfare, district public prosecutor, a representative of district police officer, two persons from civil society, district khateeb, a gynaecologist, a psychologist and chairperson of the concerned District Committee on the Status of Women, who will also serve as its secretary. The district committee has to meet at least once a month.
The district committee is bound to raise public awareness about the rights under the proposed law on the prevention of domestic violence. The committee is to assist victims of domestic violence in obtaining any medical treatment, relocation to a safer place including a government shelter home, and keep a record of incidents of domestic violence in the district.
Victims of domestic violence or their guardians can file an application with the district committee to seek protection and assistance offered under the proposed law.
Facilitation Centres/Shelter homes/Toll-free helpline
All shelter homes established by the provincial government will work under the proposed KP domestic violence. Besides, the provincial government can set up facilitation centres under the act to provide services to victims of domestic violence in the province. The government has to establish a toll free helpline for victims of domestic violence.
Under the proposed law, a victim or her guardian or the Secretary of the District Protection Committee can file an application to a court within fifteen days of the occurrence. The court is to decide cases of domestic violence within 60 days.
The court may pass any interim order deemed appropriate in the circumstances of the case at any stage before passing of final order. The court can restrain persons accused of domestic from entering the place of employment of the victim or his educational institution or any other place frequently visited by the victim. Besides, the accused person can be barred from all forms of communication with the victim. The court can refrain the accused from dispossessing the victim and return the property to the victim to which she is legally entitled.
The victims can also approach the court under the proposed legislation to seek monetary compensation from the accused person for suffering economic abuse, loss of earning, medical expense, and maintenance for herself and her children.
Penalty for breach of a court order
A person can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to three months or fine which may extend to Rs 30,000 for breach of an order of the court under the law.
Rs 50,000 fine for false complaints
However, the proposed law imposes a fine of Rs 50,000 on any person who files a false and frivolous complaint of domestic violence.
Women-friendly legislations blocked
The delay in the enactment of domestic violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is one just instance of how the right-wing lobby is quashing women-friendly legislation. The federal domestic violence was tabled in the National Assembly Wednesday on 8th July last year but has not been passed by the parliament yet.
Similarly, the laws to safeguard the property rights of women have been enforced in Islamabad Capital Territory and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa only. The legislation on property rights of women is lingering in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab.
Attempts to protect Hindu and Christian girls from being kidnapped and forcibly married have not also borne success. The Sindh Assembly rejected a bill criminalizing forced religious conversions on October 8, 2019. This was the second attempt at enacting an anti-conversion law in the province. In December 2016, the Provincial Assembly passed a similar bill, but on the insistence of the provincial government, the governor did not assent to it, reportedly over strong opposition from religious parties and the Council of Islamic Ideology.
The same is the fate of laws on restraining child marriages in Pakistan. Under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint, the minimum age of marriage for girls have been raised to eighteen years while efforts to legislate on raising the age to eighteen years in other provinces have been met with opposition from religious and conservative lobbies. In April 2019, the Senate passed a bill seeking to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 amid uproar from the members of religious parties. The JUI-F and JI senators termed it an un-Islamic bill which, according to them, is against Shariah. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri had also opposed the bill, saying two similar bills in the National Assembly had been withdrawn when the Council of Islamic Ideology termed them un-Islamic.