The delay in getting a comprehensive bill against acid and burn crimes on the agenda of Parliament is of great concern to citizen groups who have been working hard for the last several years to present options to politicians.
Recent efforts by MNAs, including Dr Attiya Inayatulla (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) who has mobilised the support of other women legislators from all parties, gives us high hope for its passage. Perhaps once the bill is taken out of the clutches of the bureaucracy, it might see unanimous support in the National Assembly.
One proposal from the Acid Survivors Foundation, which was modified by the National Commission on the Status of Women last year, was presented to the ministry of human rights. After a wait of around eight months, citizen groups decided to give up on it becoming a government bill and pinned their hopes on committed politicians to take it on as a private member bill. Dr Inayatulla took up the challenge to get the bill passed for application in the Capital Territory and got several MNAs to endorse it. In the process, the legislators got support from their parties and built a broad-based consensus. The saga of acid victims in Pakistan has made an impact on the hearts of every Pakistani and is now known to the world through Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning film, “Saving Face”. This is one social bill that religious parties are also expected to fully support in order to hold the culprits accountable.
The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Acid bill became a victim of the inaction of the human rights ministry throughout 2011 and the first half of 2012, and thus could not be presented as a government bill. Unfortunately, it has now become lost in the complicated labyrinth of our parliamentary process. After it was submitted to the National Assembly as a private member bill, it was again sent to the relevant ministries for comments – which never came. This bill was expected to be presented right after the budget session, but the wait goes on.
The film that won the Oscar for Pakistan in February 2012 highlighted the issue and showed the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) amendment, which had been passed by our Parliament in December of 2011, had been both correct and timely. However, that amendment is not enough to stop this heinous crime. Many instances of this crime go unreported out of shame or fear. Even so, on average, 150 acid attacks get reported every year, but the conviction rate is only six percent.
Citizens of Pakistan request Parliament to take up this bill for the ICT as an example of political resolve to encourage the provinces to pass their own laws. However, for now, before the Parliamentarians get a chance to show their support for the ICT Acid bill, may we ask the bureaucrats, especially those in the interior ministry, to unclench the bill so it may come back to the National Assembly for a vote?
Our parliament started the process of addressing acid crimes by passing the PPC amendment in 2011, but it needs to pass the comprehensive bill in 2012. The amendment has to be coupled with more comprehensive legislation which takes care of the details around investigation of the issue, medical treatment of the victim, rehabilitation and other significant issues. Like the sexual harassment laws that came in a pair, one amendment and one comprehensive law, the acid crimes also have to come in a pair. We hope that before the interim government sets in, the legislative agenda for this major crime can be passed. We need support from as many stakeholders as possible so we can become serious about rooting out such blatant attacks on humanity.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2012.