By Jamil Junejo
One of the most significant feats of the Sindh government is promulgation of a set of progressive laws on the rights of women. Beyond any doubt, the Sindh Assembly has made impressive progress during the last few years in the lawmaking sphere on human rights, especially that of women. Some of its legislative actions, especially the Sindh Child Marriage Restraints Act of 2013, which penalises marriage of both males and females below the age of 18 years, have gone to the extent of challenging the ideological framework of the Council of Islamic Ideology — a constitutional body mandated to provide legal advice to the government on conformity level of the country’s laws with the spirit of the Holy Quran and Sunnah.
Within the sphere of women’s rights, the Sindh Assembly has enacted there major laws which include the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2013, Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2013 and the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Act of 2015.
However, unfortunately, these laws have not successfully delivered on account of diverse reasons. This includes the fact that most of the implementation and monitoring structures to be set up under these laws are still pending.
Interestingly, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2013 provides for, inter alia, formation of the most significant commission mandated with extraordinary powers of “suo motu” on the issues of domestic violence. However, such powers which place this commission at a par with the National Commission on Human Rights and the Sindh Human Rights Commission have perpetually remained victim of ignorance, and subsequently no serious efforts are made to form this commission.
In addition to this, the act provides for formation of protection committees at district level and appointment of protection officers. These two very important protection mechanisms are not put into place either.
Given the wide occurrence of cases of violence against women across Sindh and weak, under-resourced and insufficient existing protection mechanism, especially protection centres (Darul Amans) plagued by lethargy and apathy of the duty bearers, the constitution and operationalisation of the structures provided by Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2013 is the matter of high urgency. Otherwise, violence against women, especially domestic violence, will continue to occur without fear of legal accountability.
Another significant law within the sphere of women rights protection is the Sindh Child Marriage Restraints Act of 2013. This law has also been subject to the perpetual negligence with respect to formation and operationalisation of the structures it provides for. The rules of business of the Restraints Act of 2013, provides for the establishment of district level and provincial level monitoring committees on child marriages. But these are not yet formed in complete manner. This is the reason that in absence of these committees just a few cases of child marriages have been reported and prevented by the law-enforcing agencies in some districts of Sindh.
Given the weakness of this law that it does not provide any provision on the dissolution of a child marriage when it has successfully occurred, the formation and effective operationalisation of these committees constitute as necessity and a matter of high priority, so that these marriages could be prevented rather than brought to police and judicial action after their occurrences. As a result, the complexities of dissolution of such marriages could be evaded.
It is high time that the ministries and departments form and operationalise the monitoring and implementation structures provided by the relevant pro-women laws in Sindh, so that these laws could potentially deliver on their promises.