By Danish Hussain
ISLAMABAD: Aneeta Rasool, 33, was accompanied by her three-year-old daughter when she came to the Islamabad Arbitration Council (IAC) to submit an application seeking divorce from her “abusive husband”.
Aneeta, a schoolteacher, has been married for five years. When initiated the case, she was told by the office that the council’s chairman will form a committee within a month to attempt reconciliation between the ‘separating pair’, as it is a prerequisite before any final announcement from the council.
Aneeta was also told that under normal circumstances it takes almost three months before the final divorce announcement is made.
Aneeta is among over 300 women who have moved the arbitration council to seek divorces while citing domestic violence as the main reason.
In the last 11 months, the IAC at the district courts registered 557 divorce cases, 389 of which were initiated by women.
“I am happy, but emotionally hurt,” Aneeta said when asked how she felt after filing the separation application.
“Happy, because I see an end to the five years of continuous pain I suffered at the hands of my husband, and hurt because my marriage is about to end.”
She also shared other stories related to domestic violence that have scarred the lives of many women.
Almost 92 per cent of Islamabad-based women who initiated divorce cases in 2014 have cited domestic violence as the main reason for dissolving marriages.
The IAC processes and registers divorce cases in urban areas under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, however, it does not maintain records of 12 rural union councils.
Section 7, sub-section (2) of the ordinance provides for the registration of divorce cases with the council. Failure to register a divorce is an offense punishable with simple imprisonment for a term of up to one year, a fine of up to Rs5,000, or both.
According to records for the last five years, a total of 2,887 divorce cases were registered with the council, an average of 577 cases per year.
At the same time, during the first 11 months of 2014, the council has failed to settle even a single dispute with reconciliation — all the cases resulted in dissolution of the marriage.
“Couple in a dispute approach us at the final stage, and after exhausting all options to reconcile among themselves. In the majority of such cases, they even don’t bother to sit with the arbitrator at the same time,” said Rehan, an assistant to the arbitration council chairman.
Times are changing
According to IAC statistics, only 98 divorce cases were registered in 1995, of which 19 were initiated by women.
Advocate Sadaf Ali, a family laws expert, says domestic violence has always remained the core reason behind divorces initiated by women.
She said that in her legal experience, women could bear financial hardships and other family disputes to keep the marriage intact, but in the face of physical abuse, it becomes next to impossible for them to stay in the relationship.
She said statistics show that domestic violence was not limited to rural areas. It has also become an urban phenomenon, and the federal capital, where the literacy rate is relatively high, is no exception.
Human right activist Tahira Abdullah spoke on the subject with The Express Tribune. She deplored the fact that there is no legal remedy for women subjected to domestic violence in rural parts of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in the absence of legislation.
While urging parliament and provincial governments to come up with legislation in this regard, Abdullah said that the IAC statistics not only endorse and validate the longstanding stance of women’s rights activists on the issue, but also serve as an eye-opener for society in general.
“First, men commit a crime by beating their wives, and then they refuse to divorce them, forcing the women to seek their rights through a lengthy legal procedure,” she said.