Domestic violence has become a major issue in Pakistan and other subcontinental countries. About 5,000 women are killed in Pakistan from domestic violence with thousands of others maimed or disabled. The Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous country in the world for women, after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; it is followed by India and Somalia. Domestic violence can be defined in various forms. Domestic violence in plain words means violent or aggressive behaviour within the home, typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner. There are many factors contributing to domestic violence in Pakistan, for instance poverty, illiteracy, social taboos, and that women in society are considered nothing more than second-class citizens.
To understand domestic violence a serious effort has been made by Rutgers-WPF, an international organisation operating from Islamabad. Rutgers recently published a report, which is a complete package as it has prepared recommendations that may help lower domestic violence. The research targets six rural districts of Pakistan, two each from Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The research found that 82 percent of women who took part faced domestic violence at some time in their lives and, of these, 63 percent had never sought healthcare for their injuries. The study further illuminated that poverty triggers domestic disputes, which escalate into violence. Men, who are the only bread winners for the household, were inclined to be frustrated in cases where there was no viable source of income. These frustrations are vented out on to family members who demand money from them. The Rutgers study shows that disputes over land distributions also lead to violence. Furthermore, unwanted intercourse during marriage, preference for male children, abuse of alcohol, high numbers of children and watta satta (exchange marriages) are often reasons triggering domestic violence in families.
In Pakistan, India and Bangladesh women have reported attacks ranging from physical to psychological and sexual abuse from partners, in-laws and family members. In 1998 of 1,974 reported murders in the subcontinent, the majority of victims were killed by either family members or in-laws. In 1976, the government of Pakistan introduced a piece of legislation prohibiting dowry and bridal gifts to eliminate such customs but all efforts of the government were in vain due to cultural and societal norms combined with government ineffectiveness. In 1999, the Senate of Pakistan rejected a resolution that would have condemned the practice of murdering women for the sake of family honour. The following year, on April 21, 2000, former President Pervez Musharraf declared that honour killings were “vigorously condemned” by the government and would be treated as murder. Honour killings are still a very common practice, as the recent incident before the main gate of the Lahore High Court shows. It is clear that women in Pakistan are still treated as second-class citizens and men have the right to define their fate.
The previous PPP-led government introduced a bill in 2009 called the Domestic Violence Protection Bill, proposed by PPP parliamentarian Yasmeen Rashid. The bill was passed by the National Assembly (NA) but was quashed in the Senate. It is noteworthy that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) objected to the bill and said that it would increase the ratio of divorces in the country. Furthermore, it is crucial to mention here that the bill proposed by Yasmeen Rashid noted children and women as the victims of domestic violence while ignoring the elderly and weak men. The CII argued that the punishments suggested by the bill were already enacted by other laws and suggested lack of action on these laws as being the reason for increases in domestic violence.
Since the introduction of the 18th amendment, this subject has become a provincial matter instead of a federal one, and it seems the current government of Punjab has no plan to introduce any legislation protecting women and children in the province. The bill was re-tabled in 2012 but met with a deadlock in parliament because of stiff opposition from the religious right. Representatives of Islamic organisations vowed resistance to the proposed bill, describing it as “anti-Islamic” and an attempt to promote “western cultural values” in Pakistan. They asked for the bill to be reviewed before being approved by parliament. The rise in domestic violence, child abuse and child labour is alarming and increasing day by day. After the 18th amendment, domestic violence fell in the provincial domain but no serious efforts have been made by any provincial assembly to introduce legislation to combat it. One praiseworthy move was made by a PTI provincial assembly member recently, who tabled a bill pertaining to domestic violence in the Punjab assembly; it is still in queue and has yet to come before the members for discussion. At the moment, I do not know whether the Punjab assembly will make any law declaring domestic violence a crime.
In ending, I contend we should take a stand to eliminate domestic violence and ensure equal rights for women in Pakistan. The constitution and Islam promise equal rights to women and there are various examples available on record where the Prophet (PBUH) voiced the importance of equality. Pakistan is a signatory to the world’s main human rights conventions but has never fulfilled its obligations under them. Domestic violence is a crime in western countries but it is yet to be considered a crime here in Pakistan. I have noted that in Pakistan men do not consider beating to be domestic violence while, for me, a single slap is enough to be termed as domestic violence. Domestic violence can only be eliminated from Pakistan if we promote education, challenging the prevalent mind set, which allows domestic violence. I also recommend that, at the individual level, household level, community level and societal level, communication be held disallowing domestic violence. I recommend to the authorities that there is the need of time to enact domestic violence legislation declaring domestic violence a crime. There are several provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code that promise punishment for any kind of violence but declaring domestic violence a separate crime would make the situation easier for women who seek justice from the judiciary. Let us make Pakistan a strong democratic nation where women have the same rights and liberties that are given to men.