SHELTER homes do not require legislation to be set up. They do, however, require recognition of the fact that domestic violence is a very real phenomenon. The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to reopen four women’s crisis centres in the province that were closed in 2010 (when there was an ANP-led government in KP). It thereby upheld the Peshawar High Court’s verdict in the matter against which the provincial government had appealed to the apex court. The presiding judge of the Supreme Court bench pointed out that the PTI-led government was not meeting its obligations towards women, even though it claimed to be the party with the largest female presence. Granted, crisis centres also need funds, the lack of which the KP government cited as being the reason for it being unable to reopen them. Nevertheless, the question is one of priorities. Incidentally almost exactly four years ago, the Peshawar High Court had ordered the same, a directive evidently not complied with.
In recent years, there has been legislation against domestic violence enacted in the country which makes it mandatory for such homes to be established. KP so far remains the only province to have not passed any law in this connection. Women in that province are thus particularly disadvantaged where their protection is concerned. It is not enough to have laws against physical assault in the Pakistan Penal Code: domestic violence is a very specific crime with multiple aspects, including emotional and mental torture, withholding of finances, etc. For many women, leaving home is the only recourse to escape from an intolerable existence. At the same time, they do not always have other family members willing to take them in. For a woman in such a situation, the availability of legal aid, often free, can only help so far, for what is she to do when she has nowhere to go? The government, which is constitutionally bound to protect her, must step up to fulfil its duty.