The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday directed the provincial government to ensure effective implementation of the Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act 2013 in letter and spirit to redress the grievances of the victims of such incidents.
The SHC’s single bench headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar issued the order after hearing the petitions of women seeking protection against domestic violence and harassment at the hands of their spouses, in-laws and other relatives.
Panhwar said that the Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act was enacted by the provincial government to institutionalise measures that protect women, children and other vulnerable people from domestic violence.
He said that the law was enacted to provide protection to the weakest members of society —women and children — and Section 3 of the law directs the government to ensure wide publicity of the law, including awareness training to the police as well as members of the judicial service and other relevant departments.
The judge said that the law brought the provincial government under mandatory obligation to divulge the scope and objective of the Act so that the aggrieved might no more be victims of domestic violence and could rather feel protection, while those guilty of such offences might be prevented from repeating them.
He said that the proper remedy for the issue of domestic violence lay with the magisterial court, so it would be appropriate to leave it open to be addressed.
He directed the office to not entertain any petition regarding domestic violence because the Act provides an alternative and efficacious remedy by approaching the relevant magistrate.
He also directed all the DIGs in the province to arrange awareness campaigns as well as refer harassment cases in domestic violence to the magistrates for disposal in accordance with the law until the finalisation of a committee and a rescue force in each district.
The Sindh advocate general said that 17 safe houses had been established earlier in the province and their number had been increased to 29, with an allocation for them of Rs145 million, which would be at the disposal of the deputy commissioners of the respective districts.
He said that each district committee would comprise representatives of every department relating to women under the deputy commissioners and temporary shelter would be provided to women, children and other vulnerable persons.
A representative of the women department said that the commission on domestic violence has been notified and, accordingly, 29 posts of protection officers in all would be created under the scheduled new expenditure (SNE), while four posts were created at the moment.
The court was informed that the finance department had advised creating the remaining 25 posts in the SNE 2019-2020 and that the SNE had been submitted.
Panhwar said that it has been a few years since the Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act was promulgated, but it was not being implemented due to various hurdles.
The judge took an exception to the government representative’s plea that the implementation of the law was delayed for making some amendments. He said that the plea could not be a justification in delaying the enforcement of the Act, otherwise it would amount to doubting the competence and wisdom of the legislatures. He said that the moment a law is passed, it carries the impression of completion to meet the situation for which it has been enacted.
The time or change in situations may open the possibilities of amendments, but such a plea cannot be an excuse to make the law effective, he added.
Panhwar said that the vitality of the Act was always demanding a prompt action and notification of the commission as well as the protection officers, which, however, remained hanging until hammered by the court.
He said that the court expected that the government would ensure the implementation of the Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act in letter and spirit.
He added that the Child Protection Authority, the Social Welfare Department, the Women Development Department and the Commission on the Status of Women are working in the same field, but separately with separate budgets and separate workforces, so judicial propriety demands a standard operating procedure and mechanism for the effective delivery of all the departments together.
He issued directions to the secretaries of the social welfare and women development departments, the chairman of the Commission on the Status of Women and the director general of the Child Protection Authority. They were ordered to inform the court of such a mechanism after consultation and deliberation, thereby assuring the complete implementation of the Destitute Women Act, the Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act, the Child Protection Act and other relevant laws.
He also directed the provincial law officer to submit complete details of orphanages owned by the government or any other relevant projects.
The judge said that the scope of Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act was much wider and aimed at ensuring immediate rescue and assistance to an aggrieved (as defined in the Act), so in every single district, a committee was required to be formed and a mechanism of rescue service was to be provided with a toll-free number accessible to everyone.
He said that a protection committee and a special task force with special training would be constituted to deal with women, children and destitute persons.
He directed the government to launch a campaign, making its announcement in the print and electronic media, as required under the law through all the relevant departments and devise effective protocols to address the issue of domestic violence.
He said that the people should know about the objective of the law and that the doors of the courts of the magistrates would always be open for an aggrieved or an informant for the immediate rescue or help as provided under the law.
He directed the member of the SHC’s inspection team to circulate the domestic violence act to all the magistrates. He also called for quarterly reports regarding cases of domestic violence and actions taken on them.