April 22nd, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Hailing the passage of Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2020 in National Assembly, activists say law on domestic violence remains one of the least implemented laws across Pakistan.
The domestic violence bill passed by the National Assembly on April 19 covers physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse against women, children, vulnerable persons, or any other person in a domestic relationship that causes fear, physical or psychological harm to them.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Nida Aly, Executive Director of Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS), said the issue of domestic violence is generally disregarded and treated as a personal matter by the law enforcement agencies and there is a serious lack of gender sensitisation and training in first responders to deal with such incidents which has left 90% of the women bereft of state protection.
“Currently, the conviction rate in Pakistan is between 1 to 2% in violence against women cases which in itself is the single most discouraging factor for women to come forward with their complaints,” Aly said.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, activists say women have suffered disproportionately due to a complete lack of gender responsive policies by the government. Aly said effort towards its implementation should be made by immediately notifying protection committees and protection officers for victims to benefit from the provisions of the law. In the current situation, she said the most effective protection for victims of violence is achieved through providing legal recourse to victims, for which it is imperative that the concerned judges should also be trained on these laws.
What is Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2020
Children, including any adopted, step or foster child, under the age of 18 years are provided protection from domestic violence under Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2020. The Bill broadens the scope of domestic violence to domestic servants including childen and adults and the elderly. According to the statement of objectives and reasons, acts of domestic violence are systematic and widespread and occur regardless of age or socio-economic status in the country. Besides, Pakistan is bound under United Nation Human Rights Conventions including Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to take legislative measures for protection of women in domestic life.
The Bill will ensure that victims of domestic violence are provided legal protection and relief and the perpetrators of this offence are punished in the territorial jurisdiction of Islamabad Capital Territory. All provinces except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have similar legislation on domestic violence. The Bill now has to be passed by the Senate to become an act of parliament.
Emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse
The Bill encompasses a broad scenarios of emotional, psychological and verbal abuse faced by an aggrieved person in a domestic relationship. The abuse includes repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy causing repeated invasion of the victim’s privacy, liberty, integrity and security. Any insults or ridicule and threats to cause physical pain to spouse or other members of shared household will be deemed emotional, psychological and verbal abuse.
Similarly, a person raises false allegation upon the character of a female member, causes willful or negligent abandonment, commits stalking, harassment and coercion will be deemed to have committed emotional, psychological and verbal abuse. The Bill states that sexual abuse includes any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates, degrades or violates the dignity of the vulnerable person.
The Bill recognises economic abuse as part of domestic violence. According to the Bill, economic abuse includes intentional deprivation of economic or financial resources or prohibition or restriction to continue access to such resources to which an aggrieved person is entitled to under any law or custom.
Apart from offences falling under the Pakistan Penal Code, the bill proposes a punishment imprisonment of a maximum period of three years and not less than six months depending on the gravity of the act of domestic violence for offences relating to domestic violence. The bill also calls for maximum fine ranging from Rs 100,000 to Rs 20,000 to be paid as compensation to the aggrieved person. In default of payment of fine, the court may award simple imprisonment of three months.
Victims to file petition in court
According to the provisions of the Bill, an aggrieved person of domestic violence may file a petition to a court. The first date of hearing should not exceed seven days from the date of the receipt of the petition. The court is bound to decide the petition within 90 days.
The aggrieved person can choose to reside in the house, or in an alternative. accommodation to be arranged by the respondent or in a shelter home arranged by any service provider.
Protection orders and residence orders
The court can pass a protection order in favour of the aggrieved person if it is satisfied that domestic violence has taken place or is likely to take place. The protection order can include directions to stop domestic violence, bar on any communication, and visits.
The court may also pass an order directing the officer in charge of the nearest police station to give protection to the aggrieved person or to assist the aggrieved person or the person making an application on his or her behalf in the Implementation of the order.
The court can pass interim a person against whom domestic violence is alleged to pay monetary relief to meet the expenses incurred and losses suffered by the aggrieved person and any child of the aggrieved person as a result of domestic violence.
The court can grant temporary custody of an aggrieved person to an appropriate person or authority for protection order and any other relief. In case the aggrieved person is an adult, the custody shall be granted to a service provider or some other person to any person or service provider in accordance with the will of the aggrieved person.
According to the bill, the Ministry of Human Rights will constitute a Protection Committee to help provide information, assistance and other relief to aggrieved persons of domestic violence. The committee will comprise of a representative of the Family Protection Shelter, a representative of the National Commission on the Status of Women, a medical doctor or psychologist or psycho-social worker, a law officer, and a police inspector, and a protection officer, who will act as the secretary of the committee.
The protection committee will assist the aggrieved person in obtaining any medical treatment, relocation to a safer place, filing of petition or report, and keep official record of the incidents of domestic violence in its area.
The Ministry of Human Rights will also designate a team of Protection Officers, one male and one female, under the bill. The Secretariat of the Protection Committee shall provide support to the Protection Officer in exercising his functions. The protection officers will not be a part of the investigation process but shall assist the aggrieved person in filing an application for obtaining a protection order and provision of legal aid.
Under the bill, the Protection Committee can engage the services of a service provider to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. The service provider will be bound to keep a record of domestic violence incidents, undertake medically examination of victims, and provide them shelter and any other assistance.