Sunday September 26, 2021

How Domestic Violence Bill threatens family system, parental checks

July 26, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The ambiguous and elusive definition of ‘domestic violence,’ as given in the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2021, seriously threatens society’s family value system and parental checks on children.

There would have been no problem with outlawing ‘physical abuse’, which should have been the focus of the Bill, to check the tendency of the physical torture of women, children, old parents, servants or other vulnerable persons in any household or family. However, by extending the definition of torture to include “emotional, psychological, verbal and economic” abuse, the Bill presents such an unlimited scope for interpretation and possible application that it could ruin the family system and make it impossible for parents to fulfil their parental responsibilities.

The Bill has been passed by the National Assembly and later, with a few amendments, also endorsed by the Senate. The Bill is now pending before the National Assembly for another endorsement because of the changes made by the Senate. However, following the serious controversy over the Bill, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to refer it to the Council of Islamic Ideology.

Although the CII will decide which parts of the Bill it deems un-Islamic, there is a realization now within the government, including even within the Human Rights ministry, that the extended and vague definition of ‘domestic violence” does entail certain serious problems for society and thus needs to be reviewed.

The Human Rights Ministry is presently in contact with the CII and is holding a meeting with the Council’s officials for some consensus changes in the Bill to make it acceptable to all and primarily focused on physical abuse rather than extending it to emotional, psychological, verbal and economic abuse.

What threatens the family system and parental checks, is how the Bill explains the extended definition of torture, abuse or violence. Section 3(b) of the Bill reads:

(b) “emotional, psychological and verbal abuse”, is where the aggrieved individual suffers from a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct of the respondent and includes but is not limited to:-

(i) repeated exhibition of obsessive jealousy causing repeated invasion of the victim’s privacy, liberty, integrity and security;

(ii) insults or ridicule directed at the aggrieved person;

(iii) threats to cause physical pain to spouse or other members of shared household;

(iv) threats to divorce or (contract a) second marriage on baseless accusations of insanity or infertility;

(v) bringing false allegations upon the character of a female member or any member of the shared household;

(vi) willful or neglected abandonment of the aggrieved person;

(vii) stalking;

(viii) harassment or

(ix) compelling the wife to cohabit with anybody other than the husband.

In view of the above definition, the parenting checks gets seriously threatened if a son or a daughter is disciplined, without any physical abuse or torture, by the parents or any other family member against his/her choice. For example, if he/she is asked not to stay out till late night, stopped from going to parties where there is a possible use of drugs and liquor, asked to stay home for his/her betterment, questioned for the purpose of monitoring of what the son or daughter is doing away from home etc.

Parents or any other family member could get into trouble if the son or the daughter thinks that he/she is being “emotionally”, “psychologically” or “verbally” abused by their parents, whose “monitoring” will become “stalking” and “harassment” as per the Bill. The parents could be accused of invading their son’s or daughter’s “privacy” and “liberty” if the son or daughter takes disciplinary parental action as violation of the Bill. If a father or mother or elder brother or sister scolds a son or daughter, it may also become a crime if the son and the daughter take it as “insults or ridicule”.

“Threats to cause physical pain” is also the kind of explanation given in the Bill which can be exploited. It means there is no physical abuse but the mere threat that “I will beat you” could result in punishment of up to three years in jail. Unfortunately, because of the lack of any character-building mechanism in society, verbal abuse is excessively used both in public and at home. Making it a crime instead of emphasizing character-building and civilized behavior could be exploited to destroy many families.