April 16th, 2021
By Ahmad Saeed
Rather than pass the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 as an act of parliament, the National Assembly instead extended the laws by another 120 days with effect from April 13. The rape ordinances were promulgated by President Arif Alvi on December 15, 2020, and were set to lapse on April 15, 2021.
The rape ordinances were termed a ‘necessary tool to fight increasing rape incidents’ against women and children in the country by Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, his controversial statements during a live television broadcast, in which he juxtaposed rape with women’s dressing, has raised questions as to the government’s understanding and commitment to eradicating sexual violence in Pakistan.
This recent decision to extend the rape ordinances instead of passing them as statuary law is regarded by the Opposition as evidence of the government’s lack of commitment.
MNA Mehnaz Akbar Aziz of the PML-N criticized the government for merely extending the ordinances rather than tabling them as bills before the parliament.
“This government has zero commitment for protecting the rights of children and women,” said Aziz, adding that perhaps the ‘International Monetary fund (IMF) should be the one asking the government to legislate on the issues of marginalized communities.’
She also urged to table a ‘calling attention notice’ in the NA for not tabling the ordinance as a bill before the parliament.
In an earlier interview with Voicepk.net in November 2020, PTI leader and now Senator, Barrister Ali Zafar had assured and admitted that legislations and drafts should be done through the parliament rather than the cabinet for a meaningful debate, so that suggestions from every political party could be included in the final draft. Zafar was also a member of the committee which had finalized the drafts of the two ordinances.
FEATURES OF THE NEW LAWS
One of the key facets in these ordinances is that they have recognized rape as a gender-neutral offence, by broadening the definition of rape to include men, women and sexual minorities under its ambit. Prior to this, men and boys were termed as victims of ‘unnatural offences’ of ‘sodomy’.
The other salient features of these ordinances include the establishment of special courts for speedy trials, the creation of anti-rape crisis cells for the prompt registration of FIRs, medical examination and forensic analysis, among other requirements.
The ordinances also propose that a database of sex offenders will be prepared with the help of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA).
However, despite these aspirations, Voicepk.net has found that in several cases of sexual violence, the police failed to insert the relevant section of rape (section 376 of PPC) in cases involving the rape of males under the ordinance. Rather the police are continuing to lodge such cases under section 377 of the PPC (unnatural offences) as per prior practice.
Moreover, many of the sections of the ordinances remain unimplemented to a large degree. Neither has any special court been established, nor is there any news of any anti-rape crisis cell ever since the promulgation of the ordinances in December 2020.
On March 25, 2021, almost a hundred days after the promulgation of the ordinance, the Ministry of Law and Justice constituted a 42-member special committee for their implementation. The panel had comprised government officials, doctors, women rights activists, lawyers, police, media persons, and lawyers from across the provinces. But still, their implementation does not seem in sight.