Two historic bills which have been passed by the Senate may make life just a little safer for the women of the country. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill 2008, made their way through the Senate without a stumble. This will come as a relief to those backing the Anti-Women Practices Bill, drafted by PML-Q MNA Dr Donya Aziz, which had for years remained caught up in the lower house on various flimsy grounds.
The real question comes now. The Bill on Acid Control, moved by Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar, is important given the increasing rate of acid crime across the country. It imposes a 14-year jail term for those throwing acid and also aims to restrict the sale of corrosive substances. Indeed, in a pattern we have witnessed in the last year or so, acid is being increasingly used not only against women but men and children too. Incidents are reported on a regular basis providing examples of this. But inevitably, women remain the chief victims, with acid burns increasingly inflicted over nothing more than the most petty of disputes. Most perpetrators are never apprehended. We must hope that this step will make a difference in some way.
Moreover, perhaps the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, now that it has finally been passed, can play some part in stopping traditional measures such as the exchange of women to settle disputes or their marriages to the Holy Quran. At the very least, it may act to raise awareness about these issues.
But much, of course, will depend on implementation and also on will. The presence of the laws on the statute books is a welcome step. It is the first move towards ushering in change. But, as in the past, our main problem is that of implementation. Somehow the ideas that stand behind the bills need to be passed down to the grass roots level, so that police and administrative officials are made aware of the need to enforce them to protect women and ensure that they receive the justice repeatedly denied to them.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2011.