By: MALIK ASAD
ISLAMABAD: Anecdotal evidence has long existed that prostitution rackets operate all over Islamabad. Officials always felt shy of recognising the seamy fact though, but no more.
Recently, a senior officer of the Islamabad police submitted a report to the Islamabad High Court (IHC), identifying 58 locations in the federal capital territory where the immoral trade is carried on illegally.
However, the police could not recover the anonymous girl whose cry for help from a brothel to the court led to police inquiry into prostitution dens in the city.
It was after Assistant Inspector General of Police Sultan Azam Temuri reported the failure to trace out the unfortunate girl that the court asked police for a detailed report on the wider issue of flesh trade in the city home to 1.5 million people and attractive to all kinds of visitors.
A perusal of the police report shows that the prostitution trade thrives most in the middle and upper-middle class sectors of G and F series.
Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, a former deputy attorney general and deputy prosecutor general, says that this geographical spread began in the 1980s, a decade marked by military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq’s arbitrary push for Islamisation of the society.
Before the general’s arrival on the scene, red-light areas existed in the major cities of the Islamic Republic, with societal stigma attached to the people visiting the places like Heera Mandi in Lahore and the Qasai Gali in Rawalpindi.
Jahangiri argues that frequent crackdowns on such places, pushed the prostitution activities underground but also spread it, with flesh traders setting up business in up-market residential areas of major cities to avoid the wrath of the police and embarrassment.
Demand for illegal sex has grown with lust for money and corruption in the society and more and more women are being forced into the trade.
“In numerous cases, I found that a woman was pushed into prostitution after being sexually exploited by her senior colleagues and employers.
“Small-level property dealers, private clinics and production houses would hire women in need on lucrative salaries and then seek sexual favours before handing over the first salary,” Jahangiri said, adding that unprotected, a poor woman would end up succumbing to the immoral demand – and eventually in a brothel.
His explanation is supported by stories that have come to light in court cases.
A couple of years ago, police arrested Farzana alias Kalashnikov for prostitution. She told the sessions court where she applied for bail that her husband was an addict.
That compelled her to take work at a private company where the employer sexually exploited her.
A “sympathiser” introduced her to a brothel owner from where she graduated to start her own business.
Senior lawyer Zulfiqar Bhutta says that even government and judicial environment are not free of such vile exploitation of women.
According to him court officials and opportunistic lawyers go after female litigants who don’t have support of the family and friends.
Women in divorce case, not accompanied by their family and not familiar with legal procedure, become potential targets of their wild designs.
“Some of these problems can be averted if the laws relating to the protection of women are implemented strictly,” he said.
Legal expert Nayab Hasan Gardezi supported Bhutta observing that though the Protection of Women against Harassment at Workplace Act 2010 provides that a victim’s statement and the evidence acquired in the inquiry process shall be considered as confidential, the law gives remedy at the organisation level only.
After the registration of FIR against an accused, the victim has to follow the lengthy criminal procedure code and has to face hostile cross examination by the defence lawyers.
In rape cases, he noted, even the DNA result is treated as secondary evidence and the statement of victim is the primary evidence which cannot be considered by the court without her harassing cross questioning.
Such discomforts and social pressures for a compromise, the victims decide, in most cases, to drop the case against their tormentor.
Tanveer Jahan, Member National Commission on Status of Women, a statutory body that monitors mechanism and institutional procedures for protecting women rights, told Dawn that the laws provided protection to women but are not implemented.
According to her, most victim women suffer silently because they thing prosecuting the abuser will harm them than the abuser.
“In case a woman files a complaint and asks for justice against the offender, the laws provide her complete protection and facilitation,” she said.
“Few women dare to adopt legal process against their exploitation. A majority of them simply put down the incidents to their own bad luck.”