By: Sarah Zaman
KARACHI: Rape rages across Pakistan but a vast majority of cases remain hidden from the public eye. An increased number of child rape cases in Karachi over the past few years accompanied by severe torture and sometimes manslaughter has brought the average victim’s age down to 14 from 18.
It has in part also helped debunk the myth that only bad girls are raped. How a 3 year old child is expected to err on the side of caution when trusting someone is as reasonable as expecting an adult woman to take on a gun-wielding rapist. The power dynamics between the victim and the assailant are essentially the same, even if there isn’t a weapon involved.
Of rape laws and bias
Rape laws have been debated in Pakistan forever and the Hudood laws added further complexity to the issue. Ironically, these laws were promulgated the same year the world witnessed the passage of the Convention for the Elimination on all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Pakistan subsequently ratified. Structural and institutional reforms necessary to give credence to improved laws have been conveniently ignored by successive governments, irrespective of how pro-women they claimed to be.
The bias against the survivor is set in stone by Article 151(4) of the Law of Evidence (1984), which allows defence to impeach a raped woman’s credibility in court by invoking her past sexual behaviour. The National Commission on the Status of Women had recommended the striking out of this clause in 2003.
Consent is the defence’s first and final strike to undermine a case’s veracity. Consent is seen as implicit in lack of marks of violence on a woman’s body, as defence argue and judges believe that if a woman was truly raped, she would offer utmost resistance and end up black and blue as her efforts are defeated.
Although codified law as of 2006 says that a woman less than 16 cannot legally consent to sex, there is a constant turf war between Sharia laws and the Pakistan Penal Code on the issue.
The law also says that if a woman delays reporting, it can be used against her in court. This is sanctioned under Article 121(j) of the Law of Evidence. Reporting is inadvertently delayed due to stigma, shame and self-blame.
In addition to these discriminatory laws, there are no legal provisions criminalizing and prescribing punishments for object rape, necrophilia, marital rape and incest, despite reported cases (marital rape being an exception as they form part and parcel of domestic violence charges).
Medico-legal services – a dearth
There are only 5 women medico-legal officers posted across three government hospitals in Karachi, catering to the medico-legal needs of approximately 9 million women. These doctors are severely undertrained and perpetually strapped for resources. There is no cold storage facility for freezing semen samples to conduct DNA tests. Even if a DNA test result may implicate a man for rape, there’s no surety that there will be a conviction forthcoming.
Rape survivors are never tested for HIV/AIDS, never given emergency contraception and hardly ever referred to a psychologist. In a 2005 research study of the sector by War Against Rape (WAR) and Aahung revealed that only 54% medico-legal officers take consent from survivors prior to the examination.
Recently, some landmark judgements have been given in rape cases, which can serve as a resource to prosecutors in preparing for future cases. In particular, a recent ruling against a rape case verdict by Rawalpindi High Court, where the father of the victim informed the court that he had agreed to taking Rs1,000,000 as ‘compensation’ for his daughter’s rape, was set aside by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (Criminal Petition No. 38 of 2012). The SC verdict granted many demands made under the petition for improving the criminal justice system’s response to such cases.
Similarly, investments are being made to train women law-enforcement officials across Pakistan, while they have been authorized to investigate and report on their findings. More women are being trained to take up offices across courts which may well help change their culture and make them more accessible and less intimidating for women. Additionally, numerous pro-women legislations have been passed, including the Sindh Domestic Violence law on March 1 this year.
Such changes are desperately needed if women are ever to convince a male-dominated society that rape occurs, that every case is a different story, and should be handled as such.