Problems of child marriages highlighted – 13 Jun 2022

QUETTA: Collective efforts are needed at government, social and student levels to create awareness about the problems caused by child marriages and to make effective legislation to stop the practice that badly affects health of underage girls.

People from different social organisations and college students suggested this while speaking at the concluding session of the twoday conference on early marriages and related issues here on Sunday.

The programme was organised with the collaboration of NGOs Educational and Youth Empowerment Society, Blue Vans and Girls not Birds.

Prominent health experts who spoke on the conference included Ms Rifat, Dr Shahida Alizai, Sadaf Ajmal, M Razia, Farhat Zeeshan and Asma Shah and Saba Nadia Tareen.

They said that the early marriage not only affected the health of girls who suffered from fistula for the rest of their lives and faced other serious problems.

They said that early marriages deprived young underage girls of completing theireducation and they faced many other health and social problems.

`When girls suffer from fistula they are deprived of social gatherings as they cannot leave their homes and even could not meet family members,` Dr Rifat, who was a special guest on the occasion, said at the concluding session.

She warned that cases of divorce were on the rise and because of them children suffered from a number of psychological problems at an early age in which depression was a notable mental illness.

The speakers said that in Islam, along with puberty, sensibility was also a criterion but it was often overlooked in our society.

They said that lack of awareness about major causes of early marriages was driven by weaknesses in the laws, poverty and sexual harassment, and it was leading to more underage marriages in society.

A large number of girls from different colleges attended the two-day conference.

They pledged that they would now stand up for their rights and discourage rituals such as child marriage.

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Refusing post-mortems – 13 Jun 2022

WHEN a suspicious death occurs, acceding to the wishes of grieving family members in disallowing the post-mortem of their loves one may appear humane but it does not serve t he ends of justice. A fter well-known televangelist Aamir Liaquat died on Thursday, his family refused to allow an autopsy. Police officials, to their credit, did not acquiesce, and instead, went to the court in an effort to take custody of the body which had been kept in the mortuary. However, the judicial magistrate ordered that the mortal remains be handed over to the family and Aamir Liaquat was buried on Friday, with no one the wiser as to why the 50-year-old who apparently had no serious health problems had breathed his last.

There have been many instances when the legal requirement for autopsies is treated as a matter of choice for the family of the deceased. Under Section 174 of the CrPc, when `there is any doubt regarding the cause of death,` as well as in certain other circumstances, the police officer `shall` send the body for a postmortem. However, the relevant courts can and do, allow families of the dead to refuse the procedure. Meanwhile, police officials and its forensics team on the day of the televangelist`s death had reportedly collected evidence from his residence, but in the absence of an autopsy, it may not be enough to arrive at a conclusive cause of death. The rumours, one may be sure, will continue to proliferate.

Treating post-mortems as a matter of choice rather than a mandatory requirement can also benefit the accused in cases of confirmed foul play. The body of the deceased can be a valuable repository of evidence that can hold up in court. The killers of Maulana Samiul Haq have never been found; the JUI-S leader`s family refused an autopsy citing religious reasons. The most high-profile case of this kind was of course that of Benazir Bhutto, whose murder in 2007 remains a subject of speculation to this day.

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Criminal silence – 13 Jun 2022

IT is no secret that oppressed and vulnerable communities in Pakistan are routinely targeted. Religious minorities, women, students, children, transpersons, and people of certain ethnicities periodically find themselves at the mercy of forces out to `homogenise` society. Intolerance against women and others is growing steadily.

Unfortunately, most cases of human rights violations go unnoticed. Very few attract the attention of media and rights activists with the electronic and print media often focusing on certain incidents, whereas others of a similar nature are not highlighted. The crimes against these people never garner public attention or attract the notice of the higher authorities. Those that are reported go on to become the focus of the law enforcers, the judiciary and human rights NGOs. State-mandated commissions are set up to investigate such instances, and as a result, progress on resolving these cases is accelerated.

A closer look reveals a pattern. There seems to be an unspoken, unwritten protocol of selectivity often in sync with the political views of owners of news channels or newspapers and magazines. In more general terms, the importance of a case can rest on factors such as ethnicity, urban versus rural issues, the social and political status of the victim or perpetrator. These often determine the media`s handling of such situations.

For instance, the harassment of a couple by the accused Usman Mirza, who ran a car business, received huge attention on social media, but the case of Dodo Bheel, a worker in a private company who died after being subjected to intense torture for several days reportedly by the company`s guards over alleged theft in Tharparkar district, did not.

Why did his case not attract the attention of most media outlets and human rights organisations?Isitbecausehe belongedtoa low-caste Hindu minority community or because the perpetrators worked in a corporate company and did not belong to any political or high social class? Noor Mukadam`s heinous murder was rightly highlighted by the media, resulting in speedy justice. But what about Quratul Ain Baloch, the mother of four children who was allegedly murdered by an abusive spouse? Her case was hardly taken up by the media or human rights activists. Faryal, a 35-yearold mother of three, was stabbed to death allegedly by her husband in their house in Karachi. But there was very little public reaction, media coverage, or concern shown by rights activists` when compared to, say, the Nazim Jokhio case.

Forced conversion is a very serious mat-ter and mostly involves lower-caste, nonMuslim, minor girls. Pooja Kumari, a lowcaste Hindu teenage girl, was killed after she apparently resisted her abduction linked to alleged forced conversion for marriage. According to an HRCP report, nearly 1,000 girls belonging to minority Hindu and Christian communities are forcibly married orconvertedtoIslameveryyearinPakistan.

It is an issue of grave concern, yet there is no sustained campaign by rights NGOs or government authorities to end forcible conversions.

Baloch students have routinely complained of harassment and racial profiling at campuses in Punjab, both by university administrations and other students groups.

The challenges these students face never make it to the agenda of activists or to the mainstream media. There has been criminal silence on violence against transpeople.

Over the years, scores of such persons have been killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Ethnic Shia Hazaras and Ahmedis have long been persecuted for their faiths.According to a report by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), 509 Hazaras have been killed in various incidents of terrorism in Quetta over the past five years.

The NCHR was created to protect and promote fun-damental human rights guaranteed in the 1973 Constitution. The Sindh Commission on the Status of Women maintains an office and staff and conducts periodic meetings, generating glossy reports with the help of consultants and INGO funding. Likewise, the Sindh Human Rights Commission also has an office and staff and is mandated to take up all human rights violations that take place in the province.

Civil society needs to evaluate the performance of these commissions, and monitor the implementation of their mandates and sanctioned funds received from the government and INGOs. The Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, the NCHR and the Sindh Human Rights Commission should enhance their coordination with each other, avoid the duplication of efforts and proactively and efficiently execute their responsibilities which have been enshrined in their mandate and take up cases of human rights violations without coming under any pressure or compromise. • The writer is a lawyer.

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Reviewing Peca – 13 Jun 2022

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act or Peca has been under discussion since it was passed by the previous PML-N government in 2016. One of its clauses has now come under debate in the Meesha Shafi case that a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing. This pertains to the criminal proceedings against her in a defamation suit filed by Ali Zafar under Section 20 of Peca. Though civil society organizations and media bodies have been opposing Peca in its entirety, this criminal defamation section has come to be seen as the most harmful for freedom of expression in the country. Now Justice Qazi Faez Isa is looking at the constitutional position of two contradictory decisions – one by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and the other by the Lahore High Court (LHC). Three months back, the LHC had ruled that Section 20 of Peca was not in violation of Article 19 of the constitution of Pakistan. Then two months ago, the IHC had – in a major win for advocates of free speech – scrapped the part of the Section 20 of Peca that deals with damage to reputation. The IHC was of the view that it was unconstitutional; the court had also scrapped the Peca Amendment Ordinance, passed by the PTI government and seen as a direct attack on free speech since it had unwisely enhanced the scope of defamation and made it a cognizable offence without provision of bail.

The Supreme Court is now looking into more clarity on the issue as this law is not commonly found in other functioning democracies, and is more in keeping with authoritarian regimes that have repressive tendencies. Irrespective of the current case in the SC, there has been a wide-ranging impact of this controversial law in Pakistan. Dozens of journalists have found themselves on the receiving end as the previous government charged them under Section 20 of Peca, effectively stifling dissent and curbing one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. It would be unfair to just blame the previous government though since the original law was brought in by the PML-N government – only to be made even worse by the PTI’s amendment. The Meesha Shafi case is a pertinent example of how this law can be used to force women to keep silent. In a country where misogyny and patriarchal attitudes are still deep-rooted, women need protection rather than persecution while recalling their harassment. The Peca law as a whole and Section 20 in particular goes against the grain of freedom of expression. There are defamation laws already in place in the country, and there is no need to make it a crime that deprives the accused of a bail from a court of law. There are plenty of civil laws that a case may invoke. There is also a need to train FIA officers who are prompt in registering cases of defamation that hardly have any merit and only serve as an intimidating tactic against victims or dissenters. A law that could have tackled true crime – which is a real problem on the internet – ended up criminalizing unpopular speech. There is hope Peca will be reviewed more thoroughly both by the courts and by this coalition government that has claimed it has no desire to indulge in online censorship.

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In limbo: Sikh Marriage Act yet to be actualised after four years – 13 Jun 2022

While successive govts play hot-potato with the blame, minorities in Pakistan have no option but to wait

Despite various pluralistic laws that have been coined and enacted in the last few years, the bureaucratic procedures around marriage still remain a tricky terrain to navigate for anyone outside the ambit of Pakistan’s cisgender Muslim majority.

This narrative also appears particularly true for the Sikh Marriage Act that was passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2018 but is yet to see any effective implementation.

Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Secretary Sardar Mahinderpal Singh, who is also a former member of the provincial assembly believes that the law was shelved due to technical errors in the bill’s draft. These errors, he revealed, included misspellings of the names of Guru Sahibs, absence of eligibility criteria for granthis who officiate Sikh marriages, and absence of provisions for divorces.

“The bill was to be presented to the provincial cabinet for re-approval after removing the said objections but the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government was removed via the no-trust motion last month,” he told this reporter.

However, according to Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) MPA Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora, who introduced the bill in the assembly some four years ago, the only reason for the delay in legislation was the incompetence of the then incumbent PTI government.

“Now that the PML-N government has returned to power once again, the bill will be passed as soon as the provincial cabinet is formed,” he claimed, adding that the Sikh Marriage Act is a landmark law produced by Pakistan, considering even India, despite hosting the largest Sikh population anywhere in the world, still relies on the Hindu Marriage Act to register Sikh Marriages.

Arora, who regrets the actions of the previous government, said that had things gone as planned, the enactment of this law would have been followed by the Department of Human Rights and Minority Affairs preparing its Rules of Business, “the draft for which was also handed over to the concerned department at that time but the process later fell into a limbo of PTI’s creation,” he maintained.

Meanwhile, PTI lawmaker Sardar Mahinderpal Singh, justifying his government’s operations said that even though the act was passed by the Punjab Assembly in 2018, concerned stakeholders including Sri Akal Takht Sahib and Sikh organisations from all over the world had raised various objections about the bill, leading to its reconsideration.

“One of the objections was related to missing titles of Sikh religious leaders in the draft law. Just as Muslims include a certain title for their prophets such as Peace Be Upon Him, Sikhs also use titles after the names of their religious leaders. In addition to that, we had been to realise that every granthi cannot officiate a Sikh marriage— something the original bill did not take into consideration. That had to be amended so that the sole authority for marriage shall be the granthi appointed by the Federal Government on the recommendation of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee,” informed Mahinderpal Singh.

Another issue highlighted in the original bill was its provision for divorce. Per Mahinderpal Singh, there is no concept of direct divorce in Sikhism, and no Sikh couple is reported to have filed for an annulment of marriage in the past. “To address this conflict, an amendment was introduced as per which cases of Sikh couples seeking annulment of marriage were to be referred to designated Sikh leaders forming part of Amarat Dhari Paanch Pyare. In their way, they would first try to reconcile the parents of both the wife and husband and upon failure of reconciliation between the two parties, will be empowered to announce their divorce,” he said, reiterating that all highlighted issues have been resolved by his party.

However, while the two rival political parties continue to play the blame game, Punjab’s small but significant Sikh population, like other minorities, is yet to enjoy the fruits of Pakistan’s pluralistic laws beyond their routine harbingering on paper.

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Railways to provide employment to gang-rape victim – 13 Jun 2022

LAHORE: The Pakistan Railways (PR) has decided to arrange employment for the 25-years-old woman, who was raped by some staffers of its contractor (a private firm) in the Karachi-bound moving train, Bahauddin Zakaria Express, last month.

The PR is also set to provide considerable compensation to the affected woman-a mother of two kids. Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique also made a telephone call to her on Saturday night and assured her of his department`s full support, Dawn has learnt.

`We support you fully and we will not leave you alone. We have also appointed a senior lady officer as focal person to deal with your case,` a spokesman for the PR quoted the minister as telling the victim.

Later, presiding over a meeting at the railways headquarters, Mr Rafique, according to the spokesman, directed the private operator of the train to pay the woman all legal expenses being incurred on her case and others (if any).

`We will also arrange employment for this woman. We will keep following up her case besides providing her with financial assistance,` he pledged.

While reviewing progress of the department, the minister directed the officers concerned to overhaul 21 power vans and upgrade 33 others. He sought a feasibility report on shifting the entire railways stations (especially the major ones) to solar power. He also asked the officers to clear dues of the railway employees on a priority basis.

It may be mentioned that the victim reached Multan from Karachi on May 26 by train to meet her two minor children for the first time after her divorce. Her husband (a resident of Muzaffargarh) didn`t bring her kids to the railway station under pressure from his parents.

Resultantly, she decided to go back to Karachi in the same train (Bahauddin Zakaria Express) on the same day. On the way, three staff members of the train took him to the AC compartment from the economy class where they gang-raped her.

According to the railways police, there was no deployment of the PR police officials in the train for safety and security of passengers as, under a contract, the provision of security arrangement in the train was the duty of the private operator of the train.

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Families of `missing` KU students stage sit-in outside PA – 13 Jun 2022

KARACHl: Families of two missing persons, along with civil society organisations, have staged a protest sit-in outside the Sindh Assembly building on Sunday, demanding recovery of their loved ones.

Two students of Karachi University, Doda lllahi and Ghamshad Baloch, went missing a couple of days ago and their families set up a protest camp outside the Karachi Press Club since last two days.

On Sunday evening, they took out a rally from KPC to the Sindh Assembly building.

The protesters, including women and children, removed barricades placed by the police at Fawara Chowk and managed to reach in front of the assembly building to stage a sit-in outside the main gate.

SSP-South Asad Raza told Dawn that around 60-70 protesters led by Aamna Baloch, Sammy Din Mohammed Baloch, Abdul Wahab Baloch, Varsa Pirzada and others started a march from the KPC.

He said the police did not take any action as mostly the protesters were women and children. He said the authorities held talks to persuade them to end their sit-in outside the assembly gate as the budget session was expected to take place on Monday (today).

He said the protesters alleged that the missing students had allegedly been taken away by the Counter Terrorism Department of the police.

Speaking to the protesters, the relatives and activists said that if the missing students were involved in any illegal activity, they should have been arrested instead they were whisked away forcibly at night from their homes in Gulshan-i-lqbal.

They said if the missing persons were involved in any criminal activity they should be presented in court.

They demanded immediate release of the two KU students and other missing persons.

Ms Aamna announced that their sit-in outside the Sindh Assembly gate would continue till the release of the missing KU students and others.

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Two allegedly raped in Rawalpindi – 13 Jun 2022

RAWALPINDI: Two girls were allegedly raped in separate incidents in the city, police said.

One of the victims (19) is a student who works in a labor atory in Saddar.

She informed Race Course police that on Saturday, she went to the laboratory to collect her student card from a friend.

She said later they went to a house located on Anam Street where he allegedly raped her.

A police spokesman said after the incident was reported, the suspect was detained whereas the victim was shif ted to the hospital for medical examination.

The second incident was reporte d to Dhamial police by the mother of the victim.

She told police that her daughter, 15, went to the market to buy some grocery on Friday when some persons dragged herinto a car and sped away.

The three suspects took her daughter to an underconstruction house where one of them raped her.

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Man held for beating nonagenarian – 13 Jun 2022

MUZAFFARGARH: The Rangpur police arrested a suspect for beating a 90-year-old man and dragging him on the road on Sunday. The police c ame to know aboutthe incident through the video of the incident that is doing the rounds on social media.

Superintendent of Police Ziaullah Khan said the suspect was identified as Muhammad Abid, while the victim is stated to be mentally disturbed.

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Man injures wife, daughter in Defence – 13 Jun 2022

LAHORE:A man shot at and wounded his wife and daughter in the limits of Defence A police station on Sunday.

The accused Khizar, under the influence of drugs, fired shots at his wife Nusrat and daughter Naila. As a result, his wife suffered a bullet wound to her feet and daughter got a wound to her leg. The injured were admitted to hospital where their condition was said to be out of danger. Police arrested the accused and registered a case against him on the complaint of his wife.

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