Domestic Violence Bill- Where It Stands


The most indispensable tool for development of a society is prevailing humanitarian rights with a vital assurance that rights are maintained without gender bias and discrimination. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Between 70 percent and 90 percent of the 83 million women in Pakistan have been attacked or suffered other forms of domestic abuse by husbands, future husbands or other family members. Nearly 290 women were killed and 750 permanently injured or disfigured as a result of acid attacks in 2002 alone.

The National Assembly has recently passed “Domestic Violence Bill”.  Its a crucial step considering that domestic violence was not considered a crime in Pakistan. The bill also proposes to broaden the definition to not only pertain to physical and emotional abuse , but also sexual, verbal and economic abuse. Causing hurt, use of force, mischief, assault, wrongful confinement, and intimidation to be considered  as crimes. As per sources:
The National Assembly passed a private bill on Tuesday aimed to prevent the prevalent curse through quick criminal trials and a chain of protection committees and protection officers. The first breach of a protection order will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, but not less than six months, and a minimum fine of Rs100,000, which will be paid to the aggrieved person. But a violation for the second or third time, or more, will be punishable with up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 200,000 payable to the aggrieved person.
Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Here’s the real icing on the cake:
However, filing a false complaint—which the complainant knows or has reason to believe to be false — in a court will be punishable with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with fine of up to Rs50,000, or with both.
This sounds quite familiar to the notorious Hudood ordinance, which is still being used as a strong tool against women. Some questions on how the authorities plan to implement the law :
The most indispensable tool for development of a society is prevailing humanitarian rights with a vital assurance that rights are maintained without gender bias and discrimination. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Between 70 percent and 90 percent of the 83 million women in Pakistan have been attacked or suffered other forms of domestic abuse by husbands, future husbands or other family members. Nearly 290 women were killed and 750 permanently injured or disfigured as a result of acid attacks in 2002 alone.
The National Assembly has recently passed “Domestic Violence Bill”.  Its a crucial step provided that domestic violence was not considered a crime in Pakistan. The bill also proposes to broaden the definition to not only pertain to physical and emotional abuse , but also sexual, verbal and economic abuse. Causing hurt, use of force, mischief, assault, wrongful confinement, and intimidation to be considered  as crimes. As per sources:
The National Assembly passed a private bill on Tuesday aimed to prevent the prevalent curse through quick criminal trials and a chain of protection committees and protection officers. The first breach of a protection order will be punishable with imprisonment of up to one year, but not less than six months, and a minimum fine of Rs100,000, which will be paid to the aggrieved person. But a violation for the second or third time, or more, will be punishable with up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 200,000 payable to the aggrieved person.
Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? Here’s the real icing on the cake:
However, filing a false complaint—which the complainant knows or has reason to believe to be false — in a court will be punishable with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with fine of up to Rs50,000, or with both.

This sounds quite familiar to the notorious Hudood ordinance, which was tactfully used against women rather than for them. To analyse how effective the Hudood ordinance was in helping women or otherwise , the HRCP report states:

In 1979, there were only 70 women in prisons all over Pakistan. By 1988, this figure was an astounding 6,000 (six thousand). The number of prosecutions under the Zina Ordinance not only multiplied, they became the majority of the cases against women being dealt with.Indicating a misuse of the law, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Mohammad Afzal Zullah, said 95% of all Hudood cases in the superior courts had been decided in favour of women. (The Muslim, Islamabad, March 9, 1993). ( Read Detailed Report on why the Hudood ordinance should be repealed)

Some questions on how the authorities plan to implement the Domestic Violence Bill :

  • First and foremost getting women to actually file a report. In most cases women are too scared to report and have no means to do so. Keeping that in mind significant measures need to be taken in order to get genuine pleas registered
  • The protection committee will consist of  “2two police officers and two women councillors”. Provided the immense lack of trust people have in the police department, how will transparency be insured?. The Amnesty International report states: “When women are seriously injured by their husbands or families, police still discourage them from registering complaints and advise them to seek reconciliation with their husbands or families. In karokari ( Honor killing) cases, when husbands appear in police stations declaring that they have killed a girl or woman of their family, police often fail to take action, reflecting their unwillingness to enforce the law over custom”
  • Also while farce laws such as the Hudood ordinance,are still partly functional, what is the suggested fate of the domestic violence bill.The hudood ordinance is a staunch reminder of the conditions of women rights in Pakistan.
  • Elaboration on who will be resposible to judge the authenticity. Again the Hudood ordinance is responsible for many rape victims ending up in prison.

Struggle For Women Rights:

Fatima Jinnah and Begum Liaqat Ali khan- The Pioneers of Womens Rights in Pakistan
Fatima Jinnah and Begum Liaqat Ali khan- The Pioneers of Women’s Rights in Pakistan

The struggle for women rights start as early as Jinnah’s initial goals for the Muslim league. The participation of women in the party and pushing boundaries of women’s emancipation were his prior goals. Even during his early years of struggle he seemed genuinely interested and supportive of women’s rights.
During a speech at the Islamia College for Women on 25 March 1940, he affirmed:

“I have always maintained that no nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”

His sister , Fatima Jinnah, was considered the beacon of hope for the Muslim women.During 1947 ,transfer of power, Fatima had already formed Women’s Relief Committee, which later proved to be the nucleus for the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA-still functional).

Integral part of the movement along with Fatima Jinnah were many elite women such as  Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan , the wife of Pakistan’s first prime minister; Begum Shah NawazShaista Ikramullah and Abida Sultan (1913-2002), who became role models and motivators for women of that era.
The dramatic change towards women rights was undoubtedly during Zia’s Islamization period.The 1980’s became an era that raised a conservative , male chauvinist society. Zia’s Hudood ordinance made differentiation between rape and adultery extremely difficult.Thus the law was repeatedly used towards intimidating women.The most ironic part was that the law remained intact even during the era of Benazir Bhutto. Further shedding light on the  intensity of taboos surrounding the law.

Crimes Against Women And The Law:

Photo Courtesy: Gulf News- Women protesting  agaisnt Hudood Ordinance
Photo Courtesy: Gulf News- Women protesting agaisnt Hudood Ordinance

According to the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 286 women were reported to have been killed for reasons of honour in 1998 in the Punjab alone. The Special Task Force for Sindh of the HRCP received reports of 196 cases of karokari killings in Sindh in 1998, involving 255 deaths. The real number of such killings is vastly greater than those reported. A detailed report by Amnesty international lists most common reasons for Honor killings and Gender Bias in law. The Amnesty report states:
Men who have killed their wives or daughters for bringing shame on them could also in the past find relief under the provision of  “grave and sudden provocation”. Section 300(1) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) read: “Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation…” The punishment for manslaughter is imprisonment, for murder it is death.
In its interpretation by the courts, the law provided men who have killed their wives or daughters for allegedly bringing shame on them with mitigating circumstances not available to women. Courts opined that if the provocation – to a man’s honour – is grave and sudden as when someone tells him that his wife has an ‘illicit’ relationship, he loses all power of self-control and is not fully responsible for his actions.
This provision was omitted when the Qisas and Diyat law was introduced in 1990 but judicial practice still allows such mitigating circumstances (see below).

(1) State Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Article 15
The 1979 Zina law has also contributed to restricting women’s rights .The gender discrimination inherent in it sent an affirmative signal to those intent on treating women as second class human beings with fewer rights than men. It has also provided a handy tool with which to detain women who take any initiative with respect to their choice of a spouse, as fathers often bring  zina (adultery) charges against such women.The Hudood ordinance was repealed in 2006  and amended to shape the Women Protection’s Bill. However the Bill is widely snubbed by religous parties and is considered controversial,Unislamic and unconstitutional.

A vivid example of the abuse of law by the authorities can be the case of Zafran Bibi. in 2002, Zafran Bibi was  sentenced to be stoned to death by a Sessions Court in Kohat , as she went to the police to register a case of rape after discovering she was pregnant. Instead the police registered a case of zina (adultery). Zafran Bibi was lucky, an appeal was filed and she was acquitted by the FSC. But for weeks she was kept in a death cell shackled and isolated from people.

The conditions of women rights in Pakistan and the law pertaining these violations needs to be scrutinized. Eventually crucial steps need to be taken to insure implementation of this bill. Without making significant legal changes,this bill could easily be deemed ineffective. However, to make the required amendments possible is a tough struggle .

The Current Scenario:
The Hudood ordinance was only repealed in 2006. However the situation in Pakistan had grown immensely different from the past. The year 2006 saw a significant rise in religious extremism. The influence of conservative elements made implementations of women rights more difficult. Irrespective of the hurdles, significant participation of women were seen during the imposition of emergency in Pakistan. A vital role was also played by NGO’s during the red mosque episode. However the manhandling of women,by the police, during these movements is reflective of abusive behaviour towards women by the authorities.
Photo Courtesy- Chowrangi.com - Police clash during protests of the judicial movements
Photo Courtesy- Chowrangi.com - Police clash during protests of the judicial movements
Manhandling of women protesters during the judicial movement
Manhandling of women protesters during the judicial movement

In a devastating incident last year five women including Ms. Fatima, wife of Umeed Ali Umrani, Jannat Bibi, wife of Qaisar Khan, Fauzia, daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani, and two other girls, aged between 16 to 18 years, were buried alive in a remote village, the Baba Kot, 80 kilometers away from Usta Mohammad city of Jafferabad district. They were shot and badly wounded and then buried in a ditch while they were still breathing .Their crime was wanting to have their rights on ‘choosing a husband’. The incident was later justified by Sardar Israrullah Zehri as being a ‘Tribal Cutsom’ and hence justified.A lot needs to be learned from tragedy . The outcry ties hope to break free from the customs that have deprived our women for decades. We need to create a space in time where brutality is not masked in the name of honor.

Over the years women have been able to pave their ways into Government offices, high ranking jobs and secured influential positions. However this doesn’t mean that their struggle has been easy to say the least.
Even today our women have to bear the brunts of misogynistic laws ,where even basic rights of women are considered insignificant. The society still haunts women with forced marriages,child marriages,sexual abuse,dowry abuse,harassment and assault. It will not be far-fetched to assume that passing of the ‘Domestic Violence Bill’ is only a step towards a much longer journey. We need  staunch political representation of women’s issues with an effective projection to the society. Significant provisions in the Constitution  to lay down strategy in helping oppressed women in resuming their societal role.It will be no less than a miracle to change the  conservative patriarchal orientation of our society, and trigger a change of  attitude towards women.
On a positive note we still have women such as Jehan Ara ( President Of Pakistan Software House Association), Sabeen Mahmud ( Director Peace Niche NGO), Rabia Gharib ( CEO of CIO magazine), Asma Jehnagir (Human Right Activist) and many more. These women not only represent the independent,enlightened and modern woman of Pakistan,despite the hurdles, but also  act as role models to many young women such as myself.
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10 thoughts on “Domestic Violence Bill- Where It Stands

  1. With all due respect, your articles are really amazing and are highly biased at the very same time.

    A lady used to work in our home … Her younger brother was in jail for almost 2 years. He was arrested after he was accused of sexually assaulting some lady in their village. According to his sister, the accusations were totally false and the real motive lied in some property/personal disputes.

    STATED IN YOUR BLOG:
    ‘ According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Between 70 percent and 90 percent of the 83 million women in Pakistan have been attacked or suffered other forms of domestic abuse by husbands, future husbands or other family members.’

    90%? I think the definition of domestic abuse needs detail. I have 3 sisters and about 25 female cousins and in all the cases I have seen, the clap never took place by one hand!

    I remember the case of Fakhira Batool and the culprit was one of the ‘Khars’. Interestingly, they have been members of the PPP (the party of the poor, the party of the liberals, the party of moderates, the party for women empowernment, tha party of ‘Shaheeds’ ofcourse). If you make the dots and connect them in many of the cases, the strings of law misuse will end you up in spirals leading to the same people who are advocating human rights.
    I think the easiest thing in the world is to be a liberal or a moderate as one can define its own lines and standards (opportunists I would say). Ofcourse, it makes it quite easy to bash Islam and blame Moulvis for everything ! 🙂

    [By the way, I ended up here after reading your articles on the death of Salman Taseer / Moderates stand up … I condemn the death of Salman Bhatti. Isn’t it interesting that the TTP leaflets were found there by the officials? Its all bull !!!!! ]

  2. I am doing a programe on domestic violance bill i have collected the material but am still want to know its present status on today. Can anyone help me in providing this information.

  3. Great article Sana. I’m glad someone has started blogging on the Domestic Violence Bill. I just wanted to add a few more points to your critique on it, aside from the horrendous false accusation provision:
    1. Domestic violence itself has not been criminalised. There is in effect no punishment for it – only a protection or residence order, which is in effect a restraint act – the punishment is only the breach of the protection or residence orders. However, the question is who will actually enforce these orders? Very likely, if a woman manages to get to the court once, if her husband gets to her despite the orders, how likely will it be she will go back to file a complaint? It is near to impossible.

    2. The words in the definition of domestic violence – although over all, it is a good definition – but it is described as an ‘intentional act’. Therefore, if anyone can prove they did not INTEND to cause the harm i.e. it was ignorance, it was a mistake etc, they get off the hook immediately!

    3. Implementation, as you have mentioned is a huge issue, especially with the unreliability of the police and also lack of women police officers required to form the Protection Committees.

    There are other issues with the bill, but there are some major ones.

    An answer to the question above my post about false accusations:
    There is no punishment for false accusations for murder, theft, defamation, any corporate or civil cases. Why should there only be punishment for cases involving the protection of women? No where in the world, not even in Pakistan are accusations taken to court punishable if not proved? Why should this be any different? This is a necessary step for the protection for women against violence – why should this be qualified by a provision for false accusations? If the husband is innocent, let him prove it in court, the same way a woman has to prove her case.

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  5. Feminist high five? :p
    Seriously speaking, you’ve covered mostly everything about the issue and I’d just like to point out that a lot of the times, if men are imprisoned, the bail is so low they can easily get out. Which again deters women from speaking out.
    The Domestic Violence Bill is the first step and to ensure it leaves a footprint and an impact, the govt. needs to provide for the women who speak up too.
    That said, appreciated your quoting of the Constitution and Jinnah! Excellent post, it is.

  6. I hope this communiqué finds you in the best of health.
    Nice post Sana, you’ve always been good at that 🙂 This is my first comment on any of your posts, thought I’m familiar with you and your writings in a way through twitter and via Rumaisa Mohani who regularly shares it there. Anyway, to let you know, the Hudood Ord. has long been replaced by WPA (Women Right Protection Act 2006). Does WPA still contain any clause like that?
    Moreover, (I’m not defending the punishment or whatever) don’t you think such complainants of culprit sort should be punished for their evil deeds? Kindly tell me your views about it, if i’m already not missing any.
    Have yourself a blessed day.
    Long Live Pakistan

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