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January 13, 2021

The anti-rape ordinance

Opinion

January 13, 2021

On December 15 last year (2019), President Arif Alvi approved the Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020 which is said to be in line with the constitution of Pakistan and also international treaties.

The government says that the legislation will ensure expeditious trial of cases of rape against women and children and will also sanction punishment of chemical castration of convicted rapists.

Chemical castration requires the use of a drug to diminish testosterone levels and will be applied as a measure to reduce recidivism among sex offenders. It is believed that it would help decrease the risk of convicted sex offenders repeating their crimes. The castration procedure has been used in many of the American states to reduce deviant sexual drive, fantasies and behaviour. First of all, California in 1996 and then other states including Florida, Louisiana and Wisconsin made castration a provision in their laws. In 2019, Alabama included a chemical castration measure into law. Besides, Indonesia in 2016 amending its law allowed chemical castration.

It should be learnt that punishment of chemical castration to repeat rapists does not solve the issue of rapes permanently. The castration procedure does not cause sterilization and is a very temporary thing. When the chemical castration drug is discontinued, a man becomes normal after between three and five years. However, punishment of 10 to 25 years in prison for rape, and death penalty or life imprisonment for gang-rape awarded under Pakistan panel code is much better if effectively implemented.

Under the ordinance, special courts are to be established all over the country for speedy trials of accused sexual assailants. The courts will finalise rape cases within four months. Incidents of rape of children and women are alarmingly on the rise in the country. Official statistics drawn from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, police, law and justice commission of Pakistan etc show that at least 11 rape cases are reported daily across the country. Of the overall 22,037 rape cases reported since 2015, only 77 offenders (0.3 percent) have yet been convicted and a huge number of 4,060 cases are still pending in the courts. The situation necessitates the establishment of a large network of special courts with a large number of judges to deal with newly reported and pending rape and sexual assault cases within a time-frame set by the law.

Moreover, Anti-Rape Crisis Cells are also to be set-up which would be empowered to conduct medico-legal examinations within six hours of the incident. The fact is that medical evidence occupies a pivotal role in making prosecution successful in cases of rape and other bodily attacks. A medical examination determines the very nature and extent of injuries and criminal charges in cases of numerous physical attacks rely on it.

Unfortunately, Pakistan lacks an efficient and dependable medico-legal system. Except for a few specialized doctors in government hospitals in urban areas, mostly unqualified doctors are assigned the task of performing medical examinations – and they end up using inadequate methodologies and technologies. These doctors have very little comprehension of the evidentiary scope and judicial role of medical examinations in cases of rape and sexual attacks. As a result, unelaborated and unexplained medical reports are submitted in courts, which yield no fruitful results.

Moreover, there is a lack of female medico-legal doctors in government hospitals which leads to a number of barriers for women survivors/victims of rape and sexual attacks. All these factors have a disturbing effect on survivors or victims who have been unable to secure convictions in their cases in the courts. To get productive medical reports within a set time frame, there is a desperate need to provide medico-legal doctors with specialized training in medical statutes and forensic sciences.

According to the ordinance, any police and government authorities found negligent in investigating rape cases would be awarded imprisonment for three years along with fines. Moreover, any police and government functionaries found providing inaccurate information would also be punished.

The fact is that police performance in investigating reported rape cases has not been satisfactory. Because of lack of training, police personnel have been unprofessional with their investigative techniques. They have mainly failed to conduct all-inclusive and well-timed investigations. Moreover, in most cases the accused have even managed to bribe the police to tamper with witness accounts etc. All these inconsistencies weaken cases and create complications for the courts.

It is commendable that the ordinance bars revealing the identification of rape victims and declares it a punishable offence. In this regard, the media, police, forensic officials and social media users should show some empathy in protecting the identity of rape victims. It has been commonly observed that victims of sexual crimes are discriminated against and targeted by society after their identification is disclosed. There is an utmost need to respect rape survivors/victims’ right to privacy and a dignity of life. They must not spend the rest of their lives under such social stigma.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Twitter: @ARShykh