Rape in Pakistan — The how and why

Judicial system, implementation of laws and law-enforcing agencies, all need an overhaul to control the rape menace.

Taha Kehar July 06, 2013
Judicial system, implementation of laws and law-enforcing agencies, all need an overhaul to control the rape menace.


Despite the fact that rape is a serious crime punishable by death, incompetent law enforcement mechanisms have made it easier for perpetrators to get off the hook.  

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an incident of rape occurs every two hours and an innocent victim is gang-raped every four to eight days. In recent years, female parliamentarians and gender rights activists have vociferously campaigned to bring the issue of rape within the realm of state priority issues. But the judicial system and police infrastructure have not played the role expected of them.

The Supreme Court’s decision to acquit the perpetrators of Mukhtar Mai in 2011 is a case in point. As a result, there is a deep-rooted tradition of silence surrounding the phenomenon of rape in Pakistan.

Social attitudes

“Social factors play an important role in determining the incidence of rape,” says Omer Aftab, CEO at White Ribbon Pakistan, an organisation that aims to put an end to gender discrimination against women by creating awareness among men. “Rape victims are treated as the architects of their own distress and some people in society see them as dishonest and unreliable. A majority of victims are forced to be silent. They do not confide in their families and do not report the crime because they fear stigmatisation at the hands of the police.

Rape – the three causes

Speaking about the impact of society’s indifference to rape victims, Aftab suggests that there are three main causes of rape in Pakistan – lack of education, sexual frustration and, lastly, the poor implementation of the law.

The absence of literacy encourages patriarchal tendencies among men. As a consequence, innocent women have to bear the brunt of this power struggle.

“Ignorance gives origin to many unpleasant consequences,” says Aftab. “Men who lack basic education think women can be treated as chattels and exploit them sexually for their own gains.” In a society where sex is not openly discussed, sexual frustration is likely to prevail. Aftab believes that such feelings of agitation are influenced by a variety of other social factors and provide a practical explanation for the high incidence of rape in Pakistan.

“In the absence of proper implementation of the law and appropriate deterrence for culprits, rape victims cannot obtain justice,” he says. A more effective system of deterrence can only emerge from an in-depth review of the current law. “The Protection of Women Act 2006 favours rape victims and removes the strict punishments imposed on them under the Zina Ordinance,” Aftab explains. “Moreover, rape is now adjudicated as a part of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). This is a step in the right direction but it fails to prevent the incidence of rape.”

Dynamics of tradition

Aftab views the conduct of tribal jirgas as the antithesis of state law and feels that their decisions are generally insensitive towards women. “Decisions of jirgas are usually biased against women in rural areas. Customary practices are not free from constant manipulations,” he adds. “In most cases women who have been raped are killed while their rapists get away with impunity. If a man wants to exact revenge on a woman, he simply rapes her with the satisfaction that she is the only one who will have to bear the consequences.”

Global focus

Injustices against rape victims have, in recent years, been subject to international attention. Maliha Zia Lari, a Sindh High Court advocate and gender rights activist, says, “Rape victims have suffered violence regardless of whether the laws are good or bad. If the laws are bad and the victims are not getting justice, it may increase the support and sympathy they receive from both national and international actors.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2013.  


GP65 | 9 years ago | Reply @Worldcitizen: You indeed have a valid point that the rape definitions of Australia and Sweden differ from those in our subcontinent. However India has 1.8 rapes per hundred thousand reported and if the one rape every 2 hour statistic of Pakistan is translated it would amount to 2.4 rapes per 100000 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics . The comparable statistic in Australia is 28 and in Sweden is 63. Surely not the entire difference is attributable to the definitional differences? This is not to say that education has no role to play - educating police can improve the conviction rate and educating the general public can change the mindset which blames the victim and creates a culture of silence or makes it difficult for the victim to rehabilitate in society if she does muster the courage to speak. My only point was that illiteracy and patriarchy are not the root cause of rape per se but indeed they impact the conviction rate and the rehabilitation of a rape victim in society. In this respect I feel happy that the Indian media and civil society has woken up and blame the victim type of statements are widely condemned. It is good to see that it is not just left to some women NGOs to protest instances of rape - ordinary men and women are involved and engaged. They also demanded a change to the rape laws and hopefully doing so will improve the rate of conviction further from the current 30%. (Comparable number in Pakistan is 1%).
Resonance | 9 years ago | Reply

I'm glad you've highlighted this issue. The reasons for rape vary - it's a complicated matter. But at the end of the day, it shows that someone's thinking. Good job White Ribbon.

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