By Iftikhar A. Khan
ISLAMABAD: The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) has rejected as misplaced the reservations expressed by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) over the recently passed domestic violence bill saying that there is no possibility of it shooting up the divorce rate.
“A major cause of divorce is domestic violence, which is endemic in Pakistan, and, it is hoped, that giving women means of redress will serve to decrease violence and abuse. Family problems, including divorces, occur because of violence against women and not because a solution is being sought,” the Commission observed in a statement released on Tuesday.
The Commission stressed that the divorce rate was bound to go down, if men were to stop beating their wives. The CII’s concern that old and weak men can also suffer violence in a domestic situation has been addressed by the bill, but it needs to be recognised that largely the women were the victims of such crimes.
The CII had recently expressed fears that the bill would push the divorce rate up in the country, generating a new controversy over the bill that had largely been welcomed by civil society.
The NCSW said although controversial new appointments had been made in the CII, there were expectations that it would continue to have a women-friendly attitude and the progressive and educated mindset that it has demonstrated in the recent past.
“Distorted religious interpretations and discriminatory cultural practices have stopped women from gaining an equal status in society and contributing effectively to their family’s happiness and prosperity and in the country’s development. The nation must now rid itself of human rights violations, such as domestic violence, child abuse and violent cultural practices”, it said.
The Commission, while appreciating the adoption of the bill by the National Assembly, recommended that the clause relating to the punishment of six months’ imprisonment and 50,000 rupees fine, for the victim, in case she was lying, should be removed.
“Every law can be abused and there is already a punishment on the books for perjury, but the Commission fears that this clause will serve as deterrence for women who may wish to report violence.
“We are very well aware that women already have a hard time reporting against their own family members, and of the stigma that is attached to domestic violence. Whether a complaint is false or true should be left to the judge to assess on the merit of the case, and the punishment clause should be removed, as it is bound to be abused and used as a threat by the accused against the victim”.
The NCSW termed the passage of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill terming it beginning of a positive change where some deterrence has been spelt out by the state, and women are offered the opportunity to seek protection from violent and abusive husbands or relatives.
While there is a need for other legislation around the issue, as the problem is both complex and deep rooted, the bill will assure women that there is protection against such crimes, and will also give a clear message to the abuser that violence against women is not a private matter but a crime, and will not be condoned.