March 27, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed
The conviction rate in cases of sexual abuse including rape remains at a dismal 3.6 percent in Punjab for the year 2022, while 65 percent of the accused who faced trial for sexual crimes got acquitted by the trial courts.
According to data gathered from trial courts, out of 7,988 cases, only 160 people were punished by the courts for committing sexual offences. Trial courts allowed 605 (7.5%) applicants to withdraw their complaints.
Meanwhile, currently, over 7,000 cases of sexual violence are pending in the trial courts of Punjab.
A total of 4,749 cases of rape under Section 376 of PPC were sent for trial by the Punjab Public Prosecution department, out of which only 160 accused (3.36%) were found guilty and got convicted of rape charges.
The courts acquitted 3,101 (65%) accused of rape charges, while challans of 395 cases were canceled without trial, due to various reasons.
Courts also allowed 395 (8.3%) applicants to withdraw their complaints without trial.
In 2022, a total of 227 cases of gang rape were presented for trial in the sessions courts of Punjab. Out of 227 cases, only 26 people (11.45%) were convicted by trial courts while 151 people were acquitted.
In cases of attempted rape, trial courts in Punjab handed over sentences to 39 individuals out of a total of 1157 cases. The conviction percentage in gang rape cases stood at 3.37%. Over 800 people got a ‘not-guilty’ verdict from the courts.
The courts decided a total of 1,855 cases filed under sections 377 & 377 B (unnatural offences). The trial courts awarded sentences to 294 (3.6%) accused under these charges. The courts acquitted 1,198 people from the charges of committing unnatural offences.
‘Withdrawl rate is worrying’
Lawyers and prosecutors have expressed disappointment over the low conviction rates in cases of sexual abuse. They say that the numbers show the poor performance of the police in investigating sexual crimes, especially rape.
Nida Aly, Executive Director of the AGHS Legal Aid Cell says that the most worrying number is the rate of withdrawal of cases.
“This points towards one possibility – that there is a trust deficit in our legal system,” she said while speaking to Voicepk.net. “Why do people withdraw cases? Do police force them to reconcile, because the offence of rape is a non-compoundable offence.”
She adds that the police play a huge role in the withdrawal of rape cases.
“Police convince a rape survivor to withdraw the case by telling him or her that the evidence is not enough to secure a conviction. This is indeed a troubling thing,” says Aly.
Aly also blames prolonged rape trials as another reason for the withdrawal of cases. According to NGO, War Against Rape (WAR) a rape trial usually takes three to four years to complete, and the entire process is very hostile towards the survivors.
“There are many contributing factors that result in this low conviction rate in cases of sexual crimes. Besides trust deficit and poor investigation, people do not have resources to bear the expenses of a prolonged rape trial,” Aly explains.
Rape survivor’s statement enough for conviction
In its landmark judgment of 2021, the Supreme Court held that if a survivor’s statement was “confidence inspiring”, then it was alone enough to convict the accused.
“Rape is a crime that is usually committed in private, and there is hardly any witness to provide direct evidence of having seen the commission of crime by the accused person. The courts, therefore, do not insist upon producing direct evidence to corroborate the testimony of the victim if the same is found to be confidence-inspiring in the overall particular facts and circumstances of a case, and considers such a testimony of the victim sufficient for conviction of the accused person. A rape victim stands on a higher pedestal than an injured witness, for an injured witness gets the injury on the physical form while the rape victim suffers psychologically and emotionally,” the judgment reads.
In 2021, the parliament passed the Anti-rape Act to ensure the expeditious redressal of rape and sexual abuse crimes in respect of women and children through special investigation teams and special courts providing for efficacious procedures, and speedy trial.
The Act envisages special procedures including the establishment of Anti-rape Crisis Cells to provide a one-stop solution to the survivor, including medico-legal examination and the registration of an FIR. But to date, these crisis cells have yet to be established. Rape survivors are forced to run back and forth only to have their FIR registered.
The Act also directs the establishment of a special committee at the federal level to oversee the implementation of the law. The committee has been notified and comprised of public officials and rights activists.
Sharafat Ali, who is a human rights lawyer and also a member of the committee says that the committee has formulated and notified rules regarding the investigation, trial, and registration of sex offenders.
“However, the anti-rape crisis cells, which are a unique feature of this act, are still not functional in every district as per the requirement of the law,” he says.
The federal government maintains that the Anti-rape Crisis Cells have been established in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
However, Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice told Voicepk that the Anti-rape Crisis Cells will be notified and established in Punjab over ‘the next few days’ as all the paperwork is already completed.
Nida Aly, who is also a member of a committee overseeing the implementation of the the Anti-rape Act 2021, says that the committee is doing its job and all the provisions of the law are being acted upon.
“The main problem of Pakistan’s gender legal framework is that it is bereft of implementation. We do make laws but legislative intent never translates into implementation. However, it is the first time that all the provisions of the anti-rape act have been implemented without any delay,”
the Executive Director of AGHS says.
She says that the conviction rate will increase gradually. “There is less awareness of the new law among those who are responsible to implement it”, Aly says.
AGHS trained over 350 officials about the new law
Aly mentions that AGHS has been conducting the training of government officials including judges, prosecutors, and police to make them well verse with the law for its effective implementation. AGHS has also conducted training sessions for independent support advisors aware of their responsibilities and powers are given in the act.
“Since January 2022, AGHS has conducted over 15 training sessions with members of district judiciary, Police investigating officers, and public prosecutors throughout the country. In these training sessions over 350 officials were trained and aware of the intricacies of the new law”, Aly adds.
AGHS Legal aid Cell conducting training of police officials with the National Police Academy, islamabad. on laws on Sexual and Gender Based Violence with specific focus on Anti-Rape Legislation 2021 pic.twitter.com/rd4upQBSdZ
— AGHS Legal Aid Cell, Asma Jahangir's Law Firm (@Asma_Jahangir) March 15, 2022
At the AGHS workshop for independent support providers today, we are training trans persons, shelter home representatives & other civil society members on the Anti-Rape laws.
These key stakeholders are often the first & most vital external support for sexual assault survivors. pic.twitter.com/y64iPogPfC
— AGHS Legal Aid Cell, Asma Jahangir's Law Firm (@Asma_Jahangir) February 14, 2023
She also mentions that the core purpose of the training module is to impart gender sensitivity to the officials who have the primary responsibility to implement the law, they should be well aware of the intent of new anti-rape legislation,” she says.