Crimes against women on rise in Pakistan

April 18th, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by admin  

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
Karachi, April 18 (IANS) Over 4,000 cases of crimes against women were reported in Pakistan last year - more than double the figure in 2006. But rights organisations say this is just the tip of the iceberg and many more violations go unreported or are hushed up. The reported cases in 2006 stood at 1,821.

The State of the Human Rights 2007 report, launched recently by the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), attributed the rise to conservative social practices and religious extremism.

HRCP secretary Iqbal Haider termed the year 2007 a “brutal year for women”.

In 2006, the commission reported, a woman was raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours.

According to its recent report, in 2007 there were 4,276 cases of reported abuses. Of this, 636 women were victims of honour killing, 731 were raped and 736 kidnapped.

“Society is totally brutalised and wherever crime pays it flourishes. The state’s inability to maintain law and order has made women and marginalised groups more vulnerable,” Anis Haroon, director Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights group, told IANS.

The Women Protection Act (WPA), to which activists like Haroon had pinned their hopes on and which was adopted in November 2006 and passed into law, remains inanimate.

But says Danish Zuberi, a lawyer and an activist: “The WPA is not a magic pill. All that it has done is curb very specifically the false allegations of adultery because of introducing a new procedure where a complaint for adultery can only be filed in court in the presence of witnesses.”

Unfortunately, due to some last minute changes, it has led to a lot of confusion. With the result, says Zuberi, it has caused “a huge decline in rape prosecutions.”

“We have dealt with cases where the police have declined to register a rape case because they think it should be done in court. The lot of women, particularly where rape is concerned, will not improve until changes are made to substantive laws like the law of evidence. And then reforms have to be brought in police reporting, court procedures and medical evidence.”

Zuberi feels “the breakdown of the judicial system, particularly at the trial court level” and ‘jirgas’ [village councils] awarding punishments and patching up disputes” are the main reason why violence against women perpetuates.

These crimes should be seen in the perspective of the overall situation prevailing in the country last year. These, she says, contributed to the overall lawlessness with grave consequences for women not getting their complaints redressed.

But Haroon feels the rise in crimes against women can also be attributed to such incidents being reported. “Not only are more such cases reported, but the women’s movement has created awareness within media which is reporting these issues more diligently.”

Still watchful because of the apathy shown by earlier democratic governments towards women’s’ rights, these groups have high hopes from the newly-elected leadership.

“There is hope still that women’s issues will be taken seriously although it needs a committed team and a leader to take charge of the affairs,” says Haroon.

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