KARACHI: The Sindh High Court has directed the secretary of the social welfare department to submit progress reports on a monthly basis regarding the establishment and proper functioning of safe houses for women in the province.
The provincial law officer said that safe houses had been established and functioning. However, a single bench of the SHC headed by Justice Salahuddin Panhwar observed that the reports of district and sessions judges had categorically said that safe houses were not functional and no proper mechanism was provided for smooth functioning of such houses though repeated directions had been issued that there must be a nexus among all departments related to women development.
The SHC through a judgement in 2016 in the Rehmat Bibi case had ordered the provincial authorities to set up safe houses and rescue centres for women in the interior of the province, practically for the survivors of karo-kari (honour killing).
Thereafter, the SHC has repeatedly been directing the provincial government to establish safe houses and rescues centres after many couples have been approaching the court from all over the province for their protection after contracting free-will marriages against the consent of their families.
Justice Panhwar further directed the district and sessions judges to pay surprise visits to Darul Amans, Darul Atfal, safe houses and rescue centres across the province and take steps needed for the inmates’ well-being.
Registration of NGOs
The bench was irritated when the secretary of the social welfare department conceded non-maintenance of employees’ record and having no mechanism for the registration of NGOs and supervision of funds by such NGOs. It directed him to take measures to maintain a record of employees and a complete mechanism for supervisory control over NGOs as well as their utilisation of funds.
The court also directed the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ensure compliance with Section 20 of the Pemra Ordinance by asking the TV channels to reserve a specific time to telecast news of public importance.
Earlier, advocate general of Sindh Salman Talibuddin submitted a compliance report before the bench which contended that the chief secretary held meetings and it was decided that the establishment of safe houses would be expanded to all the districts of Sindh to comply with the SHC order in letter and in spirit.
The report further said that the provincial police officer informed the meeting that rescue centres had been established at the taluka level across the province and a compliance report had already been placed before the court while the provincial police chief had agreed to provide security to women police at safe houses.
Since the control of Darul Amans is with the social welfare department and the court’s directive about bringing functions of both safe houses and Darul Amans under one umbrella required compliance on the part of social welfare and women development departments, they were committed to ensuring compliance, it added.
The provincial authorities further maintained that deputy commissioners would be personally visiting safe houses to ensure provision of all required facilities and come up with the reports, adding that chief secretary asked the social welfare department to examine the present status and on the ground position of safe houses and file reports. He also directed the women development department to coordinate with the social welfare department.
The bench was further informed that the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, constituted on a directive of the SHC, had also scheduled a forum for discussion to guide the establishment and operation of safe houses with district and divisional administration and to formulate a workable mechanism in consultation with other stakeholders for smooth functioning of such safe houses and Darul Amans.
The provincial law officer also informed the bench that the social welfare department secretary would be the focal person to coordinate with all the departments and ensure compliance with orders passed by the court on women’s issues in various petitions.
The secretary contended that he had recently taken over the charge and admitted that no record of employees of the department had properly been maintained and the Orphanage Act 1976 was yet to be complied with as it required the constitution of a board, adding that as per Section 20 of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 the licence condition for every TV channel bound them to telecast news of public importance and required them to reserve five per cent time in their total transmission. He requested the court to issue direction to the Pemra chairman in that regard.