by Sarmad Ali

Domestic violence, bonded labour, child marriages, child abuse and child labour are the never-ending social problems of Pakistan. There are seven landmark laws aimed at protecting Pakistani women — the Protection of Women Act 2006, the Anti-Rape Bill 2014, the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act 2012, the Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act 2011, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2010 (on sexual harassment) and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2011. All this legislation provides legal protection to Pakistani women.

Pakistani society is very violent and has become much more so in the last 20 years. There are many forms of violence but domestic violence has become a major issue in Pakistan, especially for young girls. Thousands of women are either killed in domestic violence or maimed and disabled. A survey carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous country in the world for women after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; it is followed by India and Somalia. Plainly put, domestic violence is violent or aggressive behaviour within the home, typically involving the abuse of a spouse or partner. There are many factors influencing domestic violence in Pakistan such as poverty, illiteracy, social taboos and the fact that women are considered second-class citizens in society because of male dominance. Van Wormer and Katherine and Fred H Besthorn in Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Macro Level: Groups, Communities, mention that it is common and acceptable in traditional and backward societies for a man to physically beat his spouse. I wholly agree with Zaman Habiba, who in his book Family, Law and Politics, states that another reason for abuse is patriarchy in Islamic society, which marginalises a woman’s role.

In Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, women have reported a range of physical, psychological and sexual abuse from partners, in-laws and family members. In 1998, of the 1,974 murders reported in the subcontinent, the majority of victims were killed by either family members or in-laws. There are various reasons for Pakistan being a dangerous place for women. A major reason behind domestic violence in Pakistan is the giving of dowry and bridal gifts. In 1976, the government introduced a piece of legislation prohibiting dowry and bridal gifts to eliminate such customs but all these efforts were in vain because of a combination of cultural and societal norms, and the government’s ineffectiveness.

To cope with domestic violence, the upper house of parliament unanimously passed the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act in 2012. This act was passed by the lower house of parliament in 2009 but lapsed, as it could not be presented in the senate within the three-month time period required by the Constitution. It was first presented in parliament in 2009 but a number of objections were raised by the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and some parliamentarians who labelled it as anti-Islamic, saying that this piece of legislation could promote immorality in Pakistan and destroy the family structure.

Pakistani society has not reached the point where it understands civil liberties and fundamental human rights because many citizens still live in feudal setups. In order to fulfill its international obligations, the Pakistani parliament has enacted a number of laws in order to protect the rights of every citizen but people are generally unaware of these laws. Pakistani women seem to be unaware of the aforementioned seven laws that guarantee protection in all walks of life. The Domestic Violence Bill, which was made a law in 2012, is an excellent piece of legislation aimed at the protection of women. The 2012 act is a complete package that aims to adopt a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence. In order to fulfill its international obligations under international conventions and treaties to which Pakistan is a signatory, it has now become the responsibility of the government to protect women even in their homes. Under the 2012 Act, a person (or anyone else authorised by him or her) who has been assaulted can file a petition in the court to seek relief. The court is required to fix the date of hearing within seven days of receiving a complaint. The next hearing should be fixed within 30 days and the matter resolved within a period of 90 days.

Under the 2012 Act, the court has the power to award “preventive orders” and “residence orders” that prohibit the accused — generally the husband — from further acts of violence and communicating with his wife. The question stands: is it possible for a wife to live in the same house as her husband who is abusive and beats her? I believe that this Act is ambiguously drafted as it is not possible for a wife to share a house with an abusive spouse. Staying in the same shelter and having no communication with the other people who live there is next to impossible. Under the same Act, the court can direct the accused to pay monetary relief to an aggrieved woman. In case of failure to fulfil the protective orders and/or residence orders of the court, the accused may have to undergo a six-month incarceration with a fine of Rs 100,000 or more. If the accused breaches the court’s orders, he may then have to face imprisonment for two years with a double fine of Rs 200,000.

No doubt, parliament passed a very good piece of legislation in order to protect the women of Pakistan but would it be possible for any woman from the lower class or even middle class to report domestic violence? I think not. The overall outlook of Pakistani society does not allow women to voice their concerns freely on any forum. Filing a petition in the court in order to seek protective orders looks good on paper but in the real world it is difficult to go to the courts to seek justice and relief. I think that the politicians of every political party in Pakistan should take responsibility for promoting tolerance and making people aware of women’s rights. It is the political parties that ought to promote a change-introducing agenda. A number of laws have been passed by parliament but they all just exist only on paper. The 2012 Act contains excellent features but, in Pakistan, the people have not accepted domestic violence as abuse and a criminal act.


The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.

About the Author: The writer is an advocate of the High Court and is lecturing in the Law of Succession. He can be reached

Document ID :AHRC-ETC-005-2015
Countries : Pakistan
Date : 03-03-2015