By Riazul Haq
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights rejected on Monday the proposals for inclusion of educational institutes in the Harassment of Women at Workplace Act.
MNA Babar Nawaz Khan chaired a meeting of the committee at the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Studies. And it was the first time that 14 women members of the committee turned up at the meeting.
The Ministry of Law and Justice, citing Article 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code, agreed with the parliamentary panel that educational institutes did not fall under the women’s harassment act ambit.
The committee members expressed serious concerns over multiplying number of harassment cases in universities across the country as “nobody from those involved in this crime are penalised”.
MNA Asiya Nasir moved a bill seeking an amendment to the Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010 to inculcate penalties into the law for those found in harassment at educational institutions and of domestic workers.
As the discussion started on the first agenda item, Nasir stated harassment at the universities was the worst and on the rise and institutions responsible to address the issue had failed while those at the helm of affairs at campuses were passing the buck to others.
“Women cannot come out to speak against the crime especially in the areas where law is not that effective,” she said.
When Khan asked, the Ministry of Law and Justice’s draftsman said the law could not be amended as it did not apply on the universities because the law covers relationship of the employee and the employer.
“That is why any student or domestic worker does not come under any of the two entities,” he said sharing Article 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code. He said the said article of the Constitution already covered any such harassment of women anywhere in the country.
Another lawmaker Munaza Hassan suggested that women ‘student’ or domestic worker be mentioned.
National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) chairperson Khawar Mumtaz also opposed the suggestion of a few members to repeal the law and promulgate a new one to cover the issue. She suggested that a desk could be formed at the NCSW with assistance of Ministry of Human Rights and intimate police stations on how to handle such cases without making them public.
Interestingly, Nasir proposed the said amendment in 2014 and she protested after the rejection of her proposed amendments that “it took the law ministry three years of deliberations”.
To back their contention, the official of the law ministry also stated that on the same grounds President Mamnoon Hussain had rejected a complaint filed by a female student of Quaid-i-Azam University in 2014 that the existing law against harassment was not applicable on cases which included students.
The committee was also told that the student had appealed to the president, and the chancellor of the university and the president had sought the law ministry’s input on the issue, which suggested that students were not protected under the harassment act.
NCSW chief also stated that after the formation of a desk there should be close monitoring of the cases of harassment as such cases were on the rise and needed to be addressed accordingly.
The committee’s chairperson at the end rejected amendments of Nasir, saying that since the law already covered all such harassment acts against women there was no need to amend the law. He further suggested that the NCSW should inform federal ombudsman about harassment of women at workplace and the Ministry of Human Rights should closely monitor such cases and suggest improvements in the mechanism and system.
While the parliamentary panel rejected amendment to the law of harassment of women at workplace to bringing education institutions in its ambit, the Ministry of Law and Justice also contends that the law is applicable to universities.