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March 14, 2019

Karachi’s major public hospitals face dearth of female MLOs


March 14, 2019

Karachi’s major public hospitals have been facing an acute shortage of women medico-legal officers (WMLOs). Though the strength of WMLOs is not being increased with the passage of time, there are other factors that make female doctors reluctant to fill those positions.

The civil society and women’s rights organisations say that the number of cases of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, rape, kidnapping and murder, has risen in the city in the past few years.

But because of a dearth of WMLOs at the Sindh government’s six hospitals in the city, the survivors of such crimes have to usually wait for hours for their turn. In a city with a population of 15 million, there are only four to five WMLOs, because of which female patients, including those injured especially in gender-based violence, suffer a great deal.

Doctors and health officials believe that physical insecurity, complicated dealings with the police and the courts and other factors stop women from joining such backbreaking professions.

Health Services Sindh Director General Dr Mubeen Ahmed Memon said that an MLO’s basic responsibility is to furnish technical evidences in criminal cases, such as what exactly happened to the victim when a crime was b4eing committed, and the courts later on use those evidences to let mete out justice.

“But the irony is that an MLO has to make sure to appear before the court and explain those proofs they recorded or collected at the time of examining the victims, in front of both the victim and the accused,” Memon told The News.

He said that this procedure sometimes puts lives of the MLOs at risk. Thus, owing to such sort of toilsome efforts, female doctors are usually reluctant to own their careers as WMLOs.

Memon also pointed out that when a court fixes a date for the hearing of a criminal case, especially those in which medical evidences are needed and an MLO must wait for many hours to assist the court, this procedure always takes time and becomes a point of hindrance for WMLOs.

“Particularly when mafias like drug peddlers and criminal gangs are behind crimes or cases involving honour killing, rape and acid attack. These cases become more difficult for WMLOs to prepare their reports.”

Interviews with officials of the health department, MLOs and civil society organisations working against gender-based violence suggest that non-availability of WMLOs has become a severe issue.

They said the Supreme Court in its 1996 ruling had banned male MLOs from conducting post-mortem examinations of female casualties and ordered that they be conducted by female doctors instead. Because of this restriction, male MLOs cannot offer any help in cases involving women.

Fareeda Tahir, a programme officer at the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), said medico-legal examination is a necessary process to examine the evidences of survivors of gender-based violence, and because of a lack of WMLOs, they suffer from a lack of justice.

“There are more security issues with WMLOs with regard to their roles, so a necessary security mechanism should be in place to protect the official involved in evidences,” said Fareeda.

She said that sufficient incentives on account of the transport from office to court and compliance of court orders are not provided to the MLOs. Sufficient budgetary allocations should be made to provide to MLOs for performing their jobs, she added.

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