It is mind-boggling to know a country which can elect the first female head of state in the entire Islamic world can also kill its women for marrying the person she likes; can have their daughters fly fighter jets but also throw acid on their face for wanting to step outside their house; can cheer for girls in green shirts hitting a six but also kill them for not covering their bodies enough.
It is a strange place and we call it Pakistan.
But amidst all these peculiarities, there are glimmer of hopes and silver linings that show Pakistan has not reached the point of no return; not yet. Such was the moment when the National Assembly passed two bills to curb the crimes of rape and honour killing which have plagued the country for years.
This is a big win and should be celebrated; rarely do we see the state actively and passionately working to protect a group which makes almost half of the total population.
But while we celebrate, we must not forget the original bill was diluted to change honour killing from a non-compoundable crime – an offence where the complainant does not have the choice to enter a compromise and drop charges – to a compoundable one with mandatory life imprisonment. Which means if a killer is sentenced to death in a case, the guilty can still escape the noose. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) plans to fight this change and we must stand together to revert the amendment if we truly want this bill to bring change.
The anti-rape bill, on the other hand, has many bright sides. For starters, it removes a malicious provision from the Qanun-e-Shahadat which calls for questioning the character of a rape victim and makes the practice punishable by law. This particular clause has been a major deterrent for many survivors when reporting rape as they are shamed and even accused of complicity by those who are supposed to protect them.
The law also declares rape of minors and people with disabilities a crime punishable by death; a welcomed move in a country where sexual assault of children is widespread yet still unaddressed and people with disabilities are not given even their basic human rights.
In an attempt to cover all bases, the law duly makes tampering with evidence and hampering investigation criminal acts, and punishes the guilty with three years of imprisonment. Given how investigations are done in Pakistan, this is another move in the right direction.
The situation will not change overnight and we will hear about rapes and honour killing taking place in Pakistan but with these two bills passed, we are one step closer to having laws that treat everyone as equal citizens.
Full text of both the bills can be found here.
January 2014 – PPP Senator Sughra Imam tables the two bills in the Senate. Senator Farhatullah Babar follows the bills upon expiry of Imam’s term.
2015 – Senate passes the bill but it eventually lapses as the government fails to put it up for a vote in the National Assembly.
April 2016 – The bills could not make their way to the joint sitting of Parliament, mainly due to opposition from the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Fazl.
July 2016 – A special parliamentary panel unanimously passes the two bills.
October 2016 – Joint session of Parliament unanimously approve the bills.
Additional input from our correspondent Riazul Haq