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PA likely to pass women protection bill today

LAHORE: The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 which the Punjab Assembly is likely to pass on Thursday (today) makes all crimes against women an offence including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking and cyber crimes.

The bill has been designed by the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit’s Senior member Salman Sufi in league with the government departments concerned and the civil society, introducing initiatives like Violence Against Women Centres (VAWCs) in all districts, court orders (residence, protection and monetary orders), introduction of GPS tracked electronic bracelets-anklets to enforce protection orders, power to force enter any place to rescue the women victims, and encompassing cyber crimes, domestic violence, emotional, economic and psychological abuse within the ambit of ‘violence against women’ crimes.

It provides civil remedies — protection, residence and or monetary order — for all these offences, which are in addition to, and not contradictory or abrogating existing laws on violence against women crimes.

Under it the aggrieved can initiate parallel criminal proceedings for VAW offences already covered in Pakistan Penal Code and other existing laws.

Violence against women has been criminalized in Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) which is a federal law. Acts of domestic violence are also an offence under various sections of PPC, and punishments for these have been prescribed in this federal law too.

Moreover, if psychological and economic abuses have tangible results, they become PPC offences too.

Sindh and Balochistan laws on the subject make domestic violence a criminal offence but the federal law prevails on them. The burden of proof is much higher for criminal offences as compared to civil offences.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 provides civil remedies, making it relatively easy to prove offences such as psychological abuse — the psychologist’s expert opinion will be sufficient.

The bill, in addition to laying down penalties for defendants, also gives rights and remedies to victims.

The victim has a right to stay in the house if she doesn’t want to vacate it or the defendant has to provide an alternative accommodation to the victim if she wants (residence order).

Further, if she is being harassed or stalked, she can claim a protection order which ordains the defendant to not communicate with the victim or stay a certain distance away from the victim. In addition, the victims can also seek monetary relief from the defendant to meet expenses occurred and losses suffered (monetary order).

Provisions exist to punish acts of domestic violence and other VAW crimes in the PPC, but the issue lies in the implementation of these sections. For example, when victims go to the police station, the police officials do not give them attention unless they are bleeding or very seriously injured. This issue will be resolved through Violence Against Women Centres (VAWC).

The VAWC will be converging point for all essential services to ensure justice delivery, including police reporting, registration of criminal cases, medical examination, collection of forensic and other evidence. They will provide first-aid, legal assistance, immediate protection to the aggrieved, collect evidence within due time to facilitate investigation and effective prosecution, audio-visual record of all actions, provide post trauma rehabilitation with the help of a psychologist, initiate cases of state-inflicted violence against women, establish a toll-free helpline to facilitate the aggrieved, mediate between aggrieved and defendant for non-cognizable offenses if requested by the victim, and act as a community centre to guide women in all government-related inquiries.

All the staff stationed at these 24-hour, all-women run, VAWCs will be trained and VAW sensitized. The police officials stationed at VAWC will be specially trained to record signs of domestic abuse and other VAW crimes through pictures and videos which will then be used as evidence in court, pursue the case and investigate properly.

All justice delivery departments inside VAWC will be connected through specially-designed integrated software with audio-visual recording which will act as a monitoring mechanism and provide real-time information to all the departments inside VAWC.

The centres will provide shelter to the aggrieved along with dependent children, arrange for technical and vocational training to make residents independent, rehabilitate the citizens in the shortest possible time

A District Women Protection Committee will supervise the working of VAWC and shelter home, ensure all cases of violence against women registered in any of the district’s police stations are referred to VAWC for investigation, medical examination and collection of forensic evidence.

The District Women Protection Officer (will supervise VAWC and shelter home) or Women Protection Officer (will assist District Women Protection Officer) will have power to force enter any place to rescue the aggrieved with her consent.

District Women Protection Officer can file a habeas corpus case on the basis of any credible information of wrongful confinement of an aggrieved person

Under this proposed legislation, the aggrieved or any person authorized by the aggrieved or the District Women Protection Officer can submit a complaint to the court to obtain the following civil remedies: protection order, residence order or monetary order.

The protection order will be enforced through GPS tracked-electronic anklets or bracelets

Several penalties (imprisonment and/or fine) have been laid out in the Bill, including penalty for obstructing a protection officer (District Women Protection Officer/Women Protection Officer), for filing a false complaint and penalty for breach of court orders or tampering with the GPS tracked system.