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Anti-Women Practices Act: Three years on, women’s rights law remains limited to paper

KARACHI: If you are not aware of the Anti-Women Practices (AWP) Act, 2011, you need not worry. Even the parliamentarians, police officers, medico-legal officers and prosecutors have no idea about this law that was passed three years ago.

Researcher on women’s issues, Sarah Zaman, learnt of this irony while conducting her research on a paper, titled ‘Forced Marriages and Inheritance Deprivation, Exploring Substantive, Structural Gaps: Prevention of ‘Anti Women Practices Act 2011.’

The paper was launched in collaboration with the Aurat Foundation on Wednesday. The event was attended by MPA Nusrat Seher Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League – Functional, Erum Khalid of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Karachi police chief AIG Ghulam Qadir Thebo as well as other prominent figures.

Speaking on the occasion, Abbasi admitted that many parliamentarians did not even have the slightest clue regarding the laws they were passing. “We draft and amend laws and pass budgets without even realising the implications it would have on the lower levels,” she said.

Zaman said that of the 74 police personnel she had interviewed in Karachi, Hyderabad, Swat, Islamabad, Mardan and Peshawar, only four had any knowledge of the law. “The police officials have outdated versions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Pakistan Penal Code,” she said. “The police officials of Hyderabad did not even know they have a Darul Sehat in their city, where they can send the homeless or marginalised women, seeking shelter.”

Zaman said that a police officer in Mardan had revealed that his police station operated more as a ‘jirga’, where they tried to mediate between the estranged couples.

“We discourage women from pursuing such cases and warn them it will cause further trouble to them if they pursue the case,” she quoted the statement of a police officer in Mardan. “Almost 90 per cent of the women who are sent back home, revisit the police stations with the same complaint of violence,” she claimed.

Inheritance and recommendations

Zaman lamented that it was generally expected from the women in our society to voluntarily deprive themselves from the inheritance.

“If a lady refuses to give up on the property, she is usually tortured and forced to marry the Quran,” she said.

According to the law, ‘whoever by deceitful or illegal means deprives any woman from inheriting property shall be punished with imprisonment’. “The words — deceitful and illegal — create ambiguity, because if someone is not depriving a woman of her inheritance through deceitful means, they cannot be charged,” she explained.

Zaman also recommended that the law should provide for a cognisable offence as the police cannot take action until they have a warrant from the magistrate.

Express Tribune