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Decent proposals

Domestic violence and sexual harassment or intimidation have been defined in a more elaborate way in the new bills, at least one of which has lapsed

By Shamim-ur-Rehman Malik

Amendments were proposed in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for making home and work environment safer for women so that they could pursue their careers with dignity. The bill, that the National Assembly had passed with unanimity in August to protect women and children from domestic violence, could not become a law.

The government will now have to get the bill passed again from both the houses after the approval of a mediation committee comprising members of both the houses. The bill on sexual harassment had been passed by the National Assembly and has been presented to the Senate.

The issue of domestic violence and harassment in and outside the house had also been addressed. Section 509 of the PPC had been amended and sub-section 2 had been added to section 509 PPC. The provision in law already dealing with the issue is not specific about workplace or employment-related activities but now the newly added sub-section deals with the workplace, working environment, job situation and job related functions and activities which clarifies the intention of the legislators.

Domestic violence and sexual harassment or intimidation, etc. have been defined in a more elaborate way and an attempt has been made to clarify the ambiguity in the term “modesty of any women”. The social environment we are living in can broadly be divided into two categories — firstly, the environment in big cities and secondly the prevailing environment in rural areas. The people living in big cities, to some extent, have developed tolerance as far as the acceptability of women working in offices is concerned. Women can now move freely and can get to their offices or work at different places. Still, there are a number of problems they face when they go out.

A section of the male-dominated society does not allow women to go to work. At some places, they have not been accepted as co-workers. The attitude of the male members of society is still not encouraging, to say the least. In some offices, the working environment is also not reasonable and there too women are fighting for their acceptability as workers.

Those around, who should be a part of the solution, are often part of the problem. We will have to draw a line somewhere which must not be crossed and whoever crosses the limit should be treated accordingly. Now, the line has been drawn by the legislators and the issue of sexual harassment has more elaborately been defined in the new law and these activities have been dealt with by providing a penal clause which provides punishment for such offences up to three years and a fine of up to five hundred thousand rupees. The legislators have tried to secure a pleasant working environment for the most vulnerable section of the society, the women.

When we analyse the current situation and the present law, the most irritating factor remains that registering a report of violence is a difficult process and it is almost impossible for a women to approach a police station and get a case registered. To lodge an FIR is a difficult process even for the men, what to speak of women who have to cross many hurdles before going to police station. The ‘environment’ in a police station is again a problem. Such cases can only be reported if a special mechanism is provided and arrangements are made that the complainants do not feel any hesitation in the process of reporting the offence committed against them.

The existing section 509 of the PPC code deals with the modesty of a women and whoever insults her. The law provides penalty and we can very safely say that this is a woman-specific section of law but the newly added sub-section is not woman-specific; rather the words have been used “other person” instead of “women”. It shows that the sexual harassment at workplace is being addressed by the legislators as an offence against all individuals and not specifically against women. This specific treatment of the offence will be of help in the implementation process of the law.

Once a case is lodged by the police, the case has to be finally decided by the court where, according to the procedure, all the witnesses who have made their statement before the police will be summoned for the deposition in the court where they will also be subjected to cross-examination and then the case will be decided either way. The magisterial courts are mostly over-burdened; that is why the cases pending before the courts are adjourned frequently and ultimately cases are decided after years.

The accused persons involved in serious crimes, such as in a murder case, are produced before the magistrate which makes the environment of magisterial courts difficult for a woman. Family courts may be a better option for trying such cases as family courts have better environment and have powers to conduct criminal proceedings in cases provided in the schedule of the family laws.

The penalty for the offence was earlier one year and now, through this amendment, has been enhanced to three years. Fine has also been fixed up to five hundred thousand rupees. This increase in penalty will only serve the purpose if the hindrances and obstacles in the way of implementation of law are dealt with effectively and carefully, otherwise the increase in penalty will be of no avail to the victim.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court.

Source: The News

Date:1/10/2010

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