PESHAWAR: A law introduced in 2011 to check anti-women customary practices, including denial of inheritance and forced marriages, has failed to deliver the goods as the police, prosecution and society in general are mostly not aware of it, says a study done to assess the law’s implementation.
The study on ‘forced marriages and inheritance deprivation’ was launched during a special ceremony organised by Aurat Foundation here on Wednesday.
Sarah Zaman did the study in six districts, including Peshawar, Mardan and Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh, and Islamabad Capital Territory.
On the occasion, Sarah said except one in Hyderabad and three in Mardan, the police officers interviewed didn’t even know that there existed the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal law Amendment) Act, 2011.
Study says society in general unaware of Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act
“No trainings, orientations or briefing sessions have been held for law-enforcement agencies by any government institution regarding the law, which severely limits their ability to apply it in the relevant situations,” she said.
The researcher said no FIR was registered under the provisions of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal law Amendment) Act in the districts.
She said the law enacted in Dec 2011 criminalised forced marriages of girls in the name of customs like vani and swara, depriving women of their inheritance rights by marrying them forcibly or keeping them from marrying willfully in order to maintain control on family assets, and prescribed punishments for the acts.
Sarah said the law declared the marriage of girls with the holy Quran illegal.
She said the law didn’t automatically declare a nikkah (marriage) held under duress or coercion as null and void and instead, a woman would be required to file a case for divorce if she wanted to end the marriage.
The researcher said most lawyers, some of whom occupied senior positions within district prosecution services, were also unaware of the law.
She said police officers had no means, resources or inclination to investigate matters involving domestic disturbance, which might be caused by forced marriage or inheritance-related violence.
While conducting the study, Sarah said it was evident that police officers had no training on gender-based violence or basic counseling skills needed to cater to cases of gender-based violence.
She said medico-legal sections neither existed in designated public hospitals as full-fledged departments nor did they operate separately from the casualty or emergency ward.
The researcher said medico-legal sections didn’t have independent budget as part of a larger healthcare setup.
She said the women’s police stations set up in different districts had failed to serve the purpose of their establishment.
“In Peshawar, the women’s police station was situated in the Police Lines, where ordinary people could hardly go due to tight security,” she said.
Sarah made recommendations for improvement in existing laws, performance of police, prosecution and other legal services and medico-legal examination.
Special assistant to the chief minister on parliamentary affairs Arif Yousaf, who was the chief guest on the occasion, said the provincial government was working to legislate against domestic violence and child marriages.
He said there were deficiencies in certain laws and that the government would remove them.
Yousaf said the current provincial assembly was very vibrant and had passed scores of bills during the parliamentary year.
He said the provincial government had introduced several laws for good governance, including those on access to information, access to public services etc.
The special assistant to the chief minister said the police had introduced online registration of FIRs for the benefit of the people.
Aurat Foundation director (advocacy) Rabeea Hadi said her organisation had received feedback from stakeholders on the study.
“We intend to do studies on women of non-Muslim communities and children living with disabilities,” she said.
Rabeea said customary practices, including forced marriages, denial of inheritance and honour killings, were deep rooted in the society and were considered sacrosanct.
Woman MPA Nargis said it was unfortunate that the oppressive customary practices continued to be there.
She said customs like swara and vani were unjust as they allowed the marriage of minor girls to members of rival families to settle disputes.