Protecting victims of IPV and domestic violence law

Pakistan’s government is liable to protect women against the offences perpetrated by private actors

Dr Bela Nawaz July 27, 2021
Dr Bela Nawaz is an Assistant Professor of Sociology, SZABIST, Karachi

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most prevalent forms of violence against women in Pakistan. Yet it remains an invisible crime due to under-reporting, as it is considered a private matter. Recently, Quratulain alias Aini Buledi was a victim of domestic violence and was killed at the hands of her husband Umar Memon after facing continuous physical violence throughout her marriage. Pakistani society is patriarchal in nature providing Pakistani men an upper hand over women’s lives. Religious interpretations further enable husbands to “deal” with their disobedient wives in whatever way they like.

In order to protect family honour and in the name of religion, husbands have full control of their wives’ lives. Fathers, brothers and husbands often make decisions on behalf of women. And consequently, women have no say in decisions about their own life. Moreover, the institution of marriage, considered holy, gives power and authority to husbands. For several women, marriages become prisons where they are confined, sometimes cut off from friends and family, and suffer domestic slavery. Women are treated as commodities and not as individuals: they are bought, sold and exchanged among men. In the name of relationships — which entail intense emotional attachment and physical investment — women experience psychological abuse, threats and intimidation, economic dependence, physical and sexual violence, even death. All these types of violence have a common purpose: to have control that not only cripple women’s spirits but also becomes a tool in women’s disempowerment.

According to the Constitution and obligations under international law, Pakistan’s government is liable to protect women against the offences perpetrated by private actors. In this regard, domestic violence laws are enacted in the provinces of Pakistan except in K-P. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013, of Sindh gives punishment under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act V of 1898) and the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860. An aggrieved person or another person on behalf of the aggrieved person can file a petition in the court of Judicial Magistrate of first class for relief. If women are forced to leave their residence, the law guarantees the provision of a safe residence. The court may pass protection and residence orders if a perpetrator is found guilty of committing domestic violence and may prohibit the perpetrator from committing and abetting any act of domestic violence in the future; of carrying out abuse against children and other family members, thereby restraining the perpetrator from dispossessing or disturbing the possession of the victim from the household. In terms of monetary relief, the court may pass an interim order to make the perpetrator liable to pay for medical expenses, damages to property and maintenance expenditures. Breach of a protection order or any other order, may result in imprisonment or fine or both.

The Sindh government unfortunately did not implement the law in letter and spirit. What we see on ground is only one among 1,000 cases, heard in the court and the perpetrator of domestic violence sentenced to six months of imprisonment with a fine in the court of Karachi in 2019 under this law. As far as constituting a protection committee is concerned, nobody knows about it, neither the government nor the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women.

Implementing the law is not as simple as it seems, it has its flaws and can be improved further. First, the law specifically deals only with victims who file an FIR or petition in the court. This actively excludes those abused women who either don’t have the courage to report the incident or don’t have any informal support from anyone. In Aini’s case, her brother told the media that she was bearing domestic violence since the second year of her marriage and delivered an immature baby due to physical violence during pregnancy. This clearly suggests that a woman’s own family does not provide any support and rather waits for potential killers to kill their daughters and sisters. Second is the non-existence of the protection committee. Here the question arises about how the community and society as a whole are going to benefit from the said law. In this regard, the jurisdiction of the committee can be enhanced down to the grass-root levels where members of the arbitrary councils can also be included as they are present on ground where incidents like these are happening behind closed doors. Necessary action can be initiated by them and they can further report to the committee immediately. Thirdly, the most important thing that needs to be integrated in the domestic violence law is the typology of IPV i.e. Intimate partner violence.

Distinguishing among the different types of IPV is important for effective policymaking and better interventions because each type has varying consequences and different contexts. According to the study conducted by Nawaz and Siddiqui (2015), in Pakistan, women experience three different types of IPV, namely situational couple violence, intimate terrorism and familial intimate terrorism. All three types have different consequences and context. In situational couple violence, situationally provoked conflict leads to arguments and may first escalate to verbal aggression and ultimately to physical violence. This type of IPV may be dealt with at the initial stage by providing couple counselling.

Familial intimate terrorism is rooted in the joint family system and controlling husbands use physical violence on the instigation of other family members. Familial intimate terrorism can be minimised if educational programmes about relationship violence become a regular part of our school curricula, teaching children and adolescents about equality and respect in our personal relationships.

In intimate terrorism, the perpetrator uses violence to take general control over his partner; the partner does not. This type is embedded in a larger pattern of power and control that exists in an intimate relationship. In fact, the intimate terrorists are the nucleus of the present law. The victims of intimate terrorism not only sustain injuries but it may lead to their death. In this context, providing counseling to the victim is not enough, safety of the victims is also a very important part of intervention. Governments can open up women’s crisis centers in every district of every city. Awareness programmes and public services messages in this regard should be aired on behalf of the government. Moreover, batterer’s intervention programmes, like the Duluth model, should also be started in Pakistan. It is time to re-evaluate the existing domestic violence law and its implications on women and the society.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2021.

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