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December 7, 2019

Call for inter-department coordination to curb gender-based violence


December 7, 2019

Expressing serious concerns over increasing cases of sexual violence in society, speakers at a moot on Thursday underlined the need for coordinated efforts among all rule of law departments, such as police, prosecution, women development, health, as well as civil society and lawyers, to curb gender-based violence.

The Legal Aid Society (LAS), a local legal rights body, organised a dialogue on “Responding to cases of sexual violence” at hotel. Government officials, lawyers, human rights activists, women rights activists and researchers shared their views at the moot.

Quoting a report titled ‘Sexual Violence and the Law in Pakistan’, prepared by War against Rape in 2011, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, chairperson of the Legal Aid Society, said sexual violence against women and minors was endemic across Pakistan. According to the “Cruel Numbers” report released by Sahil, an NGO working in Pakistan, 3,832 cases of child abuse in Pakistan have been reported in newspapers in 2018. Around 27 per cent of these cases were reported in Sindh.

“Given the reality that rape and [other forms of] sexual violence are social and legal issues, it is essential to conduct multidisciplinary analysis from psychological, social and cultural perspectives,” he remarked.

He appreciated the recent legislation in Sindh, especially the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences Relating to Rape) Act, 2016 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (Sindh Amendment) Act, 2017.

Moreover, the 2017 Sindh Act mandates DNA testing in cases of rape, whereby the 2016 Amendment Act has significantly expanded the law by laying out detailed procedures and processes to implement the law.

Sindh Home Secretary Dr Muhammad Usman Chachar said that the reporting of incidents of gender-based violence had increased due to social media.

The provincial government was committed to curbing the sexual violence in society, the cabinet had approved a rule of law roadmap, which had a focus on women too, he said, adding that a committee was working under the home department to provide training to the police, prison, prosecution and judiciary officials.

Under the newly passed Sindh Police Act 2019, a separate cadre of investigation officers has been created and the number of women police officers is being increased.

The home department has established human rights cells across the province to handle cases of violations of human rights. A Public Safety and Police Complaint Commission had been established under the chairmanship of the chief minister, and in the first meeting issues of gender-based violence were given importance, he said.

Aliya Shahid, secretary of the Women Development Department, said her department and Legal Aid Society had developed a ‘Sexual Violence Response Framework’ to provide relief to victims and take the culprits to task. The framework provides various aspects like prevention, response and rehabilitation of sexual violence, including rape. A one-window facility is being activated so the victims are provided legal, medico-legal and psychological support at one place.

Dr Saba Gul Khattak, country director, Foundation Open Society Institute, said attempt of rape is also violence. She said besides women, children and transgenders are also vulnerable to sexual violence. She said her organisation is supporting vulnerable sections of society. She appreciated the development of a framework in Sindh.

Maliha Zia Lari gave a presentation regarding sexual violence incidents in Sindh and said that in 2018 266 cases of rape were registered and courts announced convictions in only four cases, whereas 47 accused were set free and 154 cases are pending. A total of 223 sodomy cases of boys and girls were registered in Sindh, out of which only seven cases led to convictions.

Researcher Nazish Brohi said most rape cases are either not reported and most of the time stigma and labels are attached with victims. She referred to the Dua Mangi case in which people on social media are making irrelevant comments.

FIA Additional Director Faizullah Korejo presented case studies in which rape cases were delayed at various stages of trials. He said the police conduct also matters, and if a victim is not properly engaged and handled and listened to, the case may be delayed.

The role of the medico-legal officer is also important. Recently, the government of Sindh has passed the law in which DNA swab has been made part of the investigation.