The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill has been approved by the Standing Committee on Social Welfare and Baitul Maal and will be placed before the Punjab Assembly in the coming session, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The committee met on Friday and was informed about various concerns raised by civil society organisations which the Law Department took note of.
According to the draft of the approved Bill, the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence 2015 includes protection from crimes including abetment of an offence; domestic abuse; emotional, psychological and verbal abuse; economic abuse; stalking; and cybercrime. It has provisions for Violence against Women Centres (VAWC) and shelters to be established in all districts under a phased programme.
The draft says an aggrieved woman or an authorised person representing the aggrieved, including a women protection officer, would be able to submit a complaint in court to obtain a protection order, residence order or monetary order.
The penalties for filing a false complaint, breach of court orders and tampering with GPS tracker exits are imprisonment and fine.
District Women Protection Committees have been tasked with supervising the VAWC, shelter homes, a toll-free helpline and ensure that all cases of violence against women registered at district police stations are referred to VAWCs for investigation, medical examination and collection of forensic evidence.
The VAWCs will be a converging point for essential services to ensure prompt delivery of justice, first-aid, registration of criminal cases, medical examination; collect forensic evidence; and provide legal aid to the aggrieved.
They will also be responsible for providing protection to the aggrieved, psychosocial and post-trauma rehabilitation with the help of a psychologist; and mediate between the aggrieved and the defendant for non-cognisable offences if the victim requests it.
The idea is to provide women a community centre that will guide them in legal inquiries and through bureaucratic red tape. The VAWCs will also be integrated with shelter homes.
Shelter homes, the Bill says, will provide shelter to the aggrieved and their children. They will also arrange for technical and vocational training of residents.
A district women protection officer will supervise a VAWC and shelter home and will be authorised to enter any premises to rescue the aggrieved. This is subject to her consent. The district women protection officer will also be authorised to file a habeas corpus plea on the basis of credible information regarding wrongful confinement of an aggrieved person. The Bill also holds a penalty for obstructing the work of district women protection and women protection officers.
Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit Member Salman Sufi said a VAWC psychologist’s opinion could be used as evidence in court to make severe psychological and economic abuse punishable under the Pakistan Penal Code. He said the burden of proof would also be higher for criminal offences. The Bill aimed to provide civil remedies to victims. In civil cases, the burden of proof was less so it was relatively easy to prove psychological offence, he said.
The PC 1 for a VAWC in Multan is complete, he said. The Social Welfare Department has included VAWCs in the coming year’s ADP budget. Prosecution and Police Departments have sent commitment letters promising staff for the VAWCs.
The Prosecution Department will depute two prosecutors and two senior clerks and the police, two inspectors, four sub-inspectors, eight ASIs, 10 head constables, 30 constables for the VAWCs.
In 2006, the then government had taken the initiative to draft the Domestic Violence Bill. However, progress on it remained slow. On May 25 the bill was finally tabled in the Assembly after which it was sent to the Standing Committee on Social Welfare and Baitul Maal.
“Punjab has taken the lead in coming up with an effective solution to the violence faced by women. This bill is not just a collection of words drawn on a piece of paper. It also provides an implementation model in the form of VAWC, which no other province has been able to provide. These centres will jumpstart effective prosecution of heinous crimes committed against women,” Sufi said.
Recourse: Definitions of legal terms
Protection Order: The defendant will not communicate with the aggrieved; will keep distance; move out of the house; and can be tracked using electronic anklets or bracelets with GPS tracking.
Residence Order: The aggrieved will not be evicted from the house; can be allocated a shelter home; defendant will arrange alternate accommodation for the aggrieved or pay rent for alternative accommodation
Monetary Order: The defendant will pay the aggrieved monetary relief to meet expenses incurred and losses suffered.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2015.