Laws against rape and `honour` killing

HERE is a welcome change in attitudes to gender-based violence in Pakistan, but progress remains uneven and cautious for the most part. On Thursday, a joint sitting of both houses of parliament enacted two important, long-pending pieces of legislation, including the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015 and Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015.

The first stipulates that an individual found guilty of murder in the name of honour will be liable to a life term, ie 25 years, even if he is `forgiven` by his victim`s family. The other legislation, the anti-rape law, introduces sweeping changes to the way rape cases are investigated and prosecuted. For the first time, the collection and use of DNA evidence to prove rape has been given legal cover. The law also sanctions police officials who sabotage investigations or obstruct justice in rape cases, and enhances the punishment for certain categories of the crime such as the rape of a minor or a physically/mentally disabled person.

The bill on `honour` killings may well have remained in cold storage for even longer had it not been for a summer of gruesome murders of women at the hands of their families which were highlighted in the media. However, its enactment into law has been greeted with reservations in some quarters, mainly for the understandable reason that the crime remains a compoundable offence ie, one in which a compromise can be effected. That is a particularly grotesque provision in the context of such killings where the family of the victim and the perpetrator are very often one and the same. Moreover, the new law does not take away judicial discretion over whether to sentence someone who has killed in the name of `honour` to prison in the event of a pardon by the victims` family. The best one can hope is that the enhanced jail term for this crime earlier it was 10 years minimum indicates the gravity of the offence, thereby encouraging judges to disregard compromise when deciding punishment.

Meanwhile, the anti-rape law serves the cause of justice somewhat better. By stipulating in-camera trials and the use of technological aids such as video testimony of victims and witnesses, it seeks to mitigate the humiliating ordeal rape victims are subjected to in court.

This measure, along with that mandating the protection of their identity in the media, should encourage more victims to come forward and pursue justice. Excluding questions about their character from evidentiary proceedings is likewise a progressive step: a victim`s sexual history has no relevance in a rape trial. However, the definition of rape and consent in criminal law remains incomplete and outdated, a shortcoming that the anti-rape law does not address. Thus although both the recently enacted laws are a step in the right direction, they are certainly not the last word on the serious crimes they address.

Source: Daily Dawn

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