Provinces modelling pro-women bills on ‘failed’ federal law

ISLAMABAD: The existing and proposed provincial domestic violence laws are based on a federal bill that could not be passed, despite two separate attempts by parliament.

Khawar Mumtaz, former chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women told Dawn that the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2012 was first passed by the National Assembly in August 2009. However, because it was not tabled in the Senate within the stipulated three-month period, the bill lapsed.

Objections were raised about the bill when it was first passed in the National Assembly by members of religious parties and it was presented again in the Senate by Nilofar Bakhtiar in 2012 as a private member’s bill and unanimously approved in February. When the bill was tabled in the National Assembly again, it met with further objections.

However, Ms Mumtaz maintained that the 2012 act was one of the best and the most comprehensive bills drawn up in Pakistan.

She said that despite getting positive opinions from religious scholars regarding violence against women and how it was prohibited in Islam, members of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) – which recently rejected both Punjab and KP’s draft laws – did not really want to listen. “I think for them it is not about Islam, it’s about power,” she concluded.

However, a CII official defended the council’s actions, saying they did not support domestic violence.

“Women and children are not supposed to be beaten, that is settled. We only object to certain provisions, such as kicking a man out of his own house, which is against Sharia,” he said, adding that shelters for women were also an un-Islamic practice.

Failed bill’s imprint

The imprint of the failed federal bill is clearly visible on both the Balochistan and KP laws. Both laws can be activated by women, children as well as ‘vulnerable persons’ of either gender, who are defined as persons who are “vulnerable due to old age, mental or physical disability or for any other reason”.

The definition of domestic violence in the federal act included physical, psychological, economic, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2014 goes one step further, also including stalking in its definition of abuse.

The 2012 bill was a landmark piece of legislation, seeking to bring domestic violence into the public domain and envisioning the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. It recognised domestic abuse as a criminal offence and extended its provisions, including emergency relief, to all individuals in domestic relationships.

Before this, emergency relief was not available to victims. Remedies were linked to court proceedings, during which time the victim was at the mercy of their abuser. This trend is reflected in the Balochistan law, which does not provide specific penalties for different forms of domestic violence. Penalties are only specified for the breach of a protection order, issued by a court.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s draft Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2015, however, does provide for emergency relief, as well as the creation of ‘protection committees’, as provided for under the failed federal law. These committees, which have also been emulated by Balochistan, were to include a medical doctor, a psychologist, a woman police officer and a protection officer, among others.

PTI KP MPA Arif Yousaf told Dawn his government had already established district resolution committees (DRC) in certain areas. These operate together with the jirga system and have powers under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

But rights activist Qamar Naseem believes that the DRCs are simply a way to get women to resolve their problems through mediation and not go to court.

Criticising the draft KP bill, Mr Naseem said that it did not take traditional values, such as joint-family households, into account. “If a woman complains about her husband and he goes to jail, who is going to support her and how is she then going to live with his family when they know their son was sent to jail because of her,” he asked.

He claimed that the bill called on victims to prove “intentional abuse”, saying it was unfair and would land all the women who accused men under this law, in prison for levelling false accusations.

He was not hopeful about the prospects of the legislation either. “The bill will not pass the provincial assembly, especially until the JUI-F is there,” he said, adding that after opposing the domestic violence bill recently passed by Punjab, there was no hope of the PTI passing a similar bill in KP.

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