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Demand for enforcement of women rights laws

KARACHI: Women rights activists and law practitioners at a seminar on Friday called for effective implementation of the recently enacted laws providing enhanced and deterrent punishment for anti-woman practices in the country.

They lauded the efforts made by women parliamentarians as well as women rights activists which led to the legislation, and hoped that crimes against women in the guise of ‘customary practices’, continued gender discrimination and infringement and manipulation of women’s basic rights would now be checked effectively.

The seminar was organised by the Legislative Watch Programme for Women Empowerment (LWP-WE) of the Aurat Foundation at a local hotel to discuss implementation of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2011.

President Asif Ali Zardari gave his assent to the bill on Thursday after it was passed by the National Assembly on Nov 15 and then by the Senate on Dec 12.

Under the third amendment to the Act, several practices and customs, particularly in the rural areas of the country, that were not only against human dignity but also violated human rights and Islamic teachings could be prevented now, said Rubina Brohi, the LWP-WE regional coordinator.

Now anyone forcing a girl/woman into marriage under Badal-i-sulah, Wanni’, Swara or any other custom or practice, depriving a woman of her property rights or forcing a woman to marry the Holy Quran would have to face imprisonment, she added.

The main speakers at the seminar included Advocate Haq Nawaz Talpur, Zarin Majeed (Muttahida Qaumi Movement), Nusrat Seher Abbasi (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid), Sharmila Farooqui (Pakistan People’s Party), Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation and Nilofar Farrukh of the Women Action Forum.

Participants were informed that the substitution of Section 310 A of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860) stated that “whoever gives a female in marriage or otherwise compels her to enter into marriage, as Badal-i-sulah, Wanni, or Swara or any other custom or practice under any name, in consideration of settling a civil dispute or a criminal liability, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years but shall not be less than three years and shall also be liable to fine of five hundred thousand rupees.”

A new chapter, XXA, containing three clauses has also been inserted in the code seeking prohibition of three offences against women. The offences punishable with various terms of imprisonment and fines include depriving a woman of inherited property, forced marriage and marriage with the Holy Quran.

Section 498-A states that whoever by deceitful or illegal means deprives any woman of inheriting any movable or immovable property at the time of opening of succession shall be punished with imprisonment for either description for a term which may extend to 10 years but not be less than five years or with a fine of Rs1 million or both.

Section 498-B states that whoever coerces or in any manner whatsoever compels a woman to enter into marriage shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term, which may extend to seven years or for a term which shall not be less than three years and shall also be liable to fine of Rs500,000.

Another bill passed into law was the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2011 which envisages a jail term of 14 years to life imprisonment for crimes of disfiguring and defacing of human organ/body by corrosive substance.

Advocate Talpur hoped that forced marriages and consequent excesses against womenfolk, particularly in the rural, feudal and tribal settings would decrease after the amendments if the laws were implemented in letter and spirit.

He said that the Act also stopped the provincial governments from suspending or remitting sentences passed under 401, 402 or 402B (cases of rape). However, he observed, with the passage of time, in case of practical difficulties in the implementation of these laws and in order to further improve them, changes for various sections, including Section 426 of the code, would also be required.

MPA Abbasi said that the passage of the amendments proved that women parliamentarians had started plying an effective role in the legislation process. She hoped that some sets of draft legislations against harassment of women, domestic violence and violence against home-based workers would also be tabled in the parliament at the earliest.

Ms Majeed said that the passage of the bills in question was a major development towards empowerment of women, which despite constituting 52 per cent of the country’s population were faced with difficulties in this male-dominated society. “Now we should ensure infrastructures for the implementation of the laws at an accelerated pace so that the culprits could be penalised,” she added.

CM’s Adviser Sharmila Farooqui said that the new laws would discourage all those who disrespected women and disregarded their dignity. “While it is expected that the perpetrators (of crime against woman) would be checked, women should speak up and join the civil society in further sensitising people and policy makers on their issues in order to help curb the anti-women mindset,” she said.

Ms Rahman stressed the need for a review of working hours for women workers and an effective check on violence and harassment against women both at workplaces and homes.

Source: Dawn