Owing to the low conviction rate and flaws in prosecution, sexual and gender-based violence in Pakistan continues to pose a grave threat to the safety and well-being of women and children, creating lifelong mental and physical health challenges for victims.
Despite existing laws such as the Pakistan Penal Code sections 509, 354A, and 294 that criminalize various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, many victims encounter formidable obstacles when seeking justice.
The latest report by an advocacy organization, War Against Rape (WAR), cites data taken from the Punjab home department and the Ministry of human rights, according to which 21,900 women were raped in the province between 2017 and 2021. This chilling statistic translates to an average of 12 women raped daily, or one woman assaulted every two hours.
However, the advocacy organization believes these figures represent only the tip of the iceberg due to various barriers survivors face, including stigma, fear, victim-blaming, and systemic biases in the justice system.
Early and forced marriages of children remain a significant human rights violation in Pakistan, affecting nearly 18 percent of women. Shockingly, approximately 19 million child brides still exist in the country. The minimum legal age for marriage varies across provinces, with Sindh setting it at 18 for both boys and girls, while other provinces allow girls to marry at just 16.
Domestic violence also plagues Karachi, with the police surgeon’s office in the city reporting 3,649 cases in 2022 alone. From July 2022 to June 2023, a WAR team investigated 66 cases of different forms of sexual violence.
Among these cases, 44 survivors were children under 18, with the most vulnerable age group being 4-11. The average age of survivors was only 13 years, with the youngest survivor being a mere four years old. Of these cases, 85 percent involved women and girl children.
Of the total 66 cases, 35 were rape cases, 11 were gang rape cases, another 11 were attempted rapes, and nine involved incest. Alarmingly, boys were victims in 10 cases, and tragically, 12 children were murdered after sexual violence, including nine girls and three boys.
According to the WAR statistics, Korangi has emerged as a red alert zone with the highest incidence of sexual violence cases at 31 percent, followed closely by Surjani Town, where 30 percent of such cases were reported.
The Saeedabad area reported 11 percent of the cases, Iqbal Market nine percent, Orangi Town seven percent, Mehmoodabad six percent, and Gulshan-e-Iqbal reported five percent of the cases of sexual violence.
The organization collected official data from three major public hospitals of Karachi revealing that 1,256 medico-legal examinations (MLEs) in sexual assault cases were conducted from January 2021 to December 2022, while only 499 first information reports (FIRs) were lodged during the same period.
These FIRs were lodged in just 38 percent of the cases where MLEs were conducted. The report prepared by WAR reads: “This underscores the urgent need for improved mechanisms to encourage survivors to report incidents. In the first six months of 2023, Pakistan witnessed a harrowing increase in child sexual abuse cases, with an average of 12 children sexually abused daily, totaling 2,227 cases. The comparison with 2021-22 data shows a disturbing upward trend in child sexual abuse cases.”
The report also discusses the cases of sexual harassment in the country. According to the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment (FOSPAH), more than 2,000 complaints were filed between 2018 and 2022 in the government sector, and around 1,400 cases in the private sector involving men and women.
“Due to harassment, many complainants leave their jobs or normalize the harassment and hostile work environment. This discourages women from entering the workforce and restricts them from reaching financial independence.”
WAR has recommended rigorous implementation of women and child protection laws, including the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act 2022 and the Anti-Rape Act 2021. In addition, there is a need for strengthening interdepartmental coordination to handle and respond to survivors efficiently.
There is also a need to increase the recruitment and training of female personnel in the police force, judiciary, and prosecution, enhancing their knowledge of women and child protection laws. Also, the capacity of police personnel to understand gender, case management, and investigative skills should be improved.
WAR has also called for encouraging the government, semi-government, and private organizations to establish inquiry committees on sexual harassment, ensuring compliance with codes of conduct to reduce and prevent harassment.
Source: The News