Tuesday, November 3, 2009

PAKISTAN: Violence against women still a huge problem - reports

Two independent reports on domestic violence against women in Pakistan have found that the country is suffering increasing levels of abuse in spite of legislation to provide women with protection. 'The State of Human Rights in 2004', the annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) was released on Tuesday in Islamabad, covering the period from January to October 2004. It said that although there is increased awareness of the issue and discussion at both official and non-official levels, little had been achieved. "Existing laws were poorly implemented. The practices that led to the crimes against women continued across the country under the cover of 'tradition', however, no efforts were made by the government to ensure an improvement in ground realities. Rather, attempts were made to defend the murder of women and violence against them by some legislatures," said the HRCP. A second report compiled by the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid organisation (LHRLA) recorded some 4,302 cases of violence against women which had been reported in the print media and more than 1,000 cases of sexual abuse, during 2004. The HRCP found the incidence of physical, sexual or verbal violence against women in the home to be amongst the highest in the world. According to their figures, up to 80 percent of women in the country suffer from such abuse. The extent of domestic strife was illustrated, said the HRCP, by the fact that in the first half of 2004, around 5,464 cases involving violent husbands were pending in the civil courts of the Punjabi capital, Lahore alone. Many other cases of domestic discord never even reached the courts, it said. Cases of acid attacks on women have grown alarmingly over the past three years, notably in the southern Punjab, according to the HRCP. Over 15 attacks were reported in the Bahawalpur district alone between January and June 2004. "Looking at the figures coming from various sources, it appears that violence against women is clearly increasing. But to curtail this violence, the laws need to be strengthened. A whole system needs to be put in place to help the victims," said Anis Haroon, the Resident Director of the women's rights and advocacy group, the Aurat Foundation. "We can talk about it, discuss at different forums, highlight it and then get some relief for a few victims after making some noise before the higher authorities, but that's not all. There should be a proper system in place to compensate the victims and curtail the violence as well," Haroon told IRIN, speaking from the southern port city of Karachi. The HRCP report said both the official figures and unofficial estimates indicated an increase in the incidence of rape. According to the HRCP figures, about 670 rapes were reported in the first ten months of 2004. Three hundred and fifty of those were gang rapes. However, the HRCP added that some press reports suggested the true national figure for both reported and unreported rapes indicated the number of victims to be over 10,000 a year. The HRCP report further observed that despite a ban on 'jirga' trials, under which an assembly of local tribal elders passes verdict, the decisions taken by the 'jirgas' continued to jeopardise the safety of women. The increase in verdicts violating the rights and dignity of women issued by 'extra-judicial court-like' forums has to be brought to an end, demanded the HRCP. It also called for the withdrawal of a proposed new ordinance in Sindh which would legitimise such 'jirgas'. The report added that flaws in a recently introduced law on 'honour killing' must be removed. It called for judges, lawyers and police officials, as well as other sections of society, to be urgently educated on the terrible consequences for women of many customs, including 'honour killings', so that the courts and administration are deterred from extending protection to such illegal practices. "Besides introducing strong legislation, the entire system of the police and judiciary needs to be reformed. And for that a strong political will is needed, which is lacking at the moment. Unless the people at the helm of the affairs are not punished for violating the laws, nothing will change," Haroon maintained.


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