Protecting children from rape

May 21, 2023

The rising number of child rape cases is a very serious issue

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he courts have a crucial role in addressing the issue of sexual violence. Our legal system encompasses both secular and religious laws, and it is the responsibility of the judiciary to interpret and enforce these laws. However, the judiciary faces numerous challenges when it comes to handling cases of sexual violence. Child rape is considered an extremely abhorrent crime and its prevalence is a matter of great concern. The country has one of the highest rates of sexual violence globally. The role of civil society and the judiciary in tackling this issue is of paramount importance. Acting together, they can contribute significantly to assuring justice to the victims and protecting potential victims.

The rising number of rape cases in Pakistan is a very serious issue. As per the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there were 11,000 reported cases of sexual violence in 2020. It is highly likely that some cases go unreported due to the fear of retaliation and social stigma. A significant proportion of the victims are children. In many instances, the perpetrators are people known to the victims.

Some civil society organisations have been diligently working to raise awareness regarding the issue of sexual violence and extend support to the victims. These organisations offer crucial services such as counselling, legal aid and medical assistance to those affected.

Additionally, they advocate for policy reforms aimed at addressing the underlying causes of sexual violence and enhancing the protection of women and children. These organisations play a critical role in offering support to victims, especially in instances where the state fails to deliver justice. Unfortunately, in many cases, the victims do not receive sufficient assistance from the authorities, prompting civil society organisations to step in and provide the necessary support. Moreover, they play a vital role in advocating for policy changes that can contribute to combating sexual violence.

One of the primary challenges lies in the sluggish pace of justice. Resolving sexual violence cases often takes years, subjecting victims to multiple hearings before justice is finally served. The lengthy process not only discourages survivors from reporting the crime but also increases the risk of evidence being lost. Another obstacle faced by the judiciary is the lack of sensitivity towards victims of sexual violence. Many victims perceive the judicial system to be biassed in favour of the perpetrator and believe that their trauma is not taken seriously. This lack of sensitivity is a deterrent to reporting the crime.

In order to tackle these challenges, the government has implemented several measures to enhance the judiciary’s capacity in addressing sexual violence. One noteworthy step was the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2016. This legislation not only augmented the penalties for sexual offences committed against children but also streamlined the reporting process, making it more accessible for victims. Additionally, the government set up special courts dedicated to handling cases of sexual violence and gender-based violence. These courts aim to deliver expeditious and empathetic responses to victims and ensuring a more sensitive judicial process.

There are still some people who embrace beliefs that condone or justify sexual violence against women and children.

One of the most critical challenges in addressing the issue of sexual violence lies in transforming the societal mind-set. There are still some people in Pakistan who embrace beliefs that either condone or justify sexual violence. It is imperative to challenge such views and foster a culture that upholds gender equality and respects human rights.

There are several institutional and structural gaps that contribute to the challenges in addressing sexual violence. In many parts of the country, the police faces significant limitations due to inadequate resources, limited capacity and political interference in their work. Forensic criminal investigation poses additional hurdles as many officers lack the knowledge and equipment for collecting crime scene evidence for chemical testing. Some medico legal officers (MLOs) still rely on outdated practices and DNA facilities are absent in many government hospitals. As a result, samples must be sent to laboratories in other cities, causing significant delays.

Prosecuting can be an agonising and arduous process, too. Apart from the disorienting nature of courtrooms, lengthy trials and high litigation costs make it challenging to seek justice. The situation is particularly severe for women, who often endure the intrusive gaze of men, discrimination and disbelief. In terms of infrastructure, the lack of secure waiting areas and the unsanitary latrines exacerbate the difficulties faced by the victims.

Addressing these problem requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. It is crucial to induct and train more women to serve as decision-makers and prosecutors in rape cases. Non-functional medico-legal centres must be made operational to facilitate easy access and ensure timely and thorough evidence collection. The state also needs to invest in training programmes for police officers, MLOs, judges and public prosecutors, enabling them to provide high-quality, well-coordinated survivor-centred services.

The government should establish additional shelter homes across rural as well as urban areas of the country, adequately staffed with well-trained officers. Furthermore, it is imperative to enact witness protection laws that encompass protection for women and children who have experienced violence and may face pressure or harassment to withdraw charges. A comprehensive review of the curriculum and training material for police and medico-legal officers is necessary to eradicate gender bias and discourage officers from forming prejudiced opinions before a thorough investigation or conclusion of a case. Efforts should be made to enhance the accessibility and effectiveness of women police stations, including increasing the number of officers deployed in such

Offenses such as child rape are grave crimes that have unfortunately seen an alarming rise in Pakistan. A collaboration between civil society and the judicial system is of utmost importance in tackling these issues and delivering justice to the victims. There is a pressing need to reform the judicial system itself, ensuring that victims of sexual violence are treated with utmost sensitivity and that swift justice is served.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court and a PhD scholar

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