ISLAMABAD: Proposed legislation aimed at recognising and protecting the rights of the transgender community may not achieve the required purpose if it doesn’t also contain a dedicated institutional mechanism to guarantee the enforcement of those rights, legal experts say.
Two separate bills – Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2017 and Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill were tabled in the National Assembly last week by JUI-F MNA Naeema Kishwar Khan.
The first bill deals with the proposed punishments for offences committed against transgender individuals. It proposes a life sentence and fine for those who abduct or kidnap a transgender, as well as anyone who strips a transgender person in public.
The draft amendment proposes up to two years imprisonment and/or fine for criminal assault on a transgender individual, and up to one year in prison and a fine for anyone who insults a transgender person.
Interestingly, the amendment bill also recommends the death penalty for anyone who kidnaps a transgender for “unnatural lust”, and 25 years in prison and fine for anyone who attempts to sell a transgender person into prostitution.
The rights bill, on the other hand, contains a charter of transgender rights, and proposes to extend legislative recognition to the third gender. It entitles them to all fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, as well as protecting them against discrimination before the courts, law enforcement agencies, educational institutions, and the workplace.
Besides ensuring their share in the property of their parents, the bill seeks quotas for the transgender community in different departments. The bills also provide protection to the community against harassment or forceful eviction.
The bill does not propose any new framework to address the issues faced by the transgender community. Clause 17 of the bill, titled ‘Enforcement Mechanism’, merely states that an “aggrieved transgender person shall have a right to move a complaint to the National Commission on Human Rights.
Aftab Alam, a legal expert working on human rights issues, told Dawn that while the tabling of the bills was a positive step, there was a need to understand the community’s issues.
“The ground reality is that transgender people face problems in being accepted by society. There is a need to enable transgender individuals to join the mainstream by creating awareness among the people at large,” he said.
He pointed out that the law lacked a dedicated institutional mechanism that will work exclusively for the rights of transgender persons. Giving the example of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), Mr Alam said that if the aim was to protect the rights of the third gender, some practical framework should be included in the proposed bill that will give transgender persons a forum or platform for the realisation of their cause.
Otherwise, he said, all the bills do is extend recognition to the transgender as citizens of the state.
Naeema Kishwar Khan, who tabled the bills in the National Assembly, told Dawn that she was a part of the committee constituted by the federal ombudsman to look into different complaints lodged by the transgender community.
“During committee meetings, I learnt a lot about the issues faced by transgender persons and arrived at the conclusion that their issues cannot be addressed without proper legislation,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that educational institutions refuse admission to transgender students. Even if they manage to receive an education, they face similar problems in securing jobs. Therefore, I have suggested a quota for the transgender community in both educational institutions and government jobs.”