KARACHI: While many women face violence within their homes, a piece of legislation that aims to protect them from it has been pending in the Sindh Assembly for the past three years.
No private laws have been passed in the house of Sindh’s elected representatives since the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government came to power in 2008.
The ‘Domestic Violence against Women and Children (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2008’ was submitted by MPA Humera Alwani three years ago, but it has yet to be brought to the floor.
“There is not enough legal protection for victims of domestic violence. The proposed law will help shield women and children from such incidents, including honour killing,” said Alwani.
The bill has been criticised and some of the male parliamentarians, who feel that there is no need for such laws, have even harassed Alwani. “I am really putting up a struggle for the bill, which has been neglected and ignored. Every time I speak about it, I am given false assurance that it will be introduced,” she said. Alwani added that the feudal mindset prevails in the assembly and hence the men are of the view that domestic violence should not be discussed outside the home.
Earlier this year, some men in parliament joked about a resolution on this very issue before they passed it. But Alwani believes that a simple resolution isn’t enough. According to a report which was published by the Aurat Foundation in 2010, around 136 cases of domestic violence were reported in Sindh.
But as everyone knows, this figure is a gross underestimate and is not representative of the scale and spread of such acts, as activists believe that the victims prefer to stay silent.
The organisation’s director, Mahnaz Rahman, said that the bill is extremely important as men are not being punished for torturing women. “Five months ago, a woman with broken ribs came to us and said that her husband was responsible for the injuries. The police had refused to register an FIR as they felt that it was a matter which had to be sorted out by the members of the household.”
Rahman cited the apathy of the law ministry as the reason behind the failure to highlight these issues. The law minister, Ayaz Soomro, said that Alwani was making a mountain out of a molehill. He said that the law would be passed by the Sindh Assembly at its next session.
The domestic violence bill covers physical, sexual, emotional, social, economic and psychological abuse committed by a person with whom the victim has an intimate relationship.
A woman who feels that she has been wronged can submit an application to a magistrate. If the court finds a man guilty of domestic violence, he can be sent behind bars for a minimum of three years. He will also have to pay monetary relief to the victim every month, which includes the full cost of medical treatment. Moreover, the bill suggests that the government form a protection committee to assist the victims.
“The National Assembly has passed a number of bills related to the plight of women. It is sad and ironic that these issues are not addressed in the provincial assembly, where women are so active,” said Alwani.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2011.