Why is curbing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) not a priority for the PML-N led government?
Yet another horrifying rape case has sparked outrage across the country. The incident occurred on May 27, 2022, when a young mother was travelling on the Bahaudin Zakaria Express. Memory recalls a previous frightful rape incident that had terrorised the entire nation: the Lahore motorway rape case of September 9, 2020.
However, the legal landscape surrounding both cases has drastically changed. It was in fact the public outrage following the Lahore motorway rape case that caused the then PTI-led government to pass two Ordinances in order to improve the criminal justice system’s (CJS) response to sexual violence.
The Ordinances were passed by President Arif Alvi on December 15, 2020. They were later renewed and then passed as Acts of the Parliament and were enacted into law after receiving assent from the president. These are titled: ‘The Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trail) Act 2021’ and ‘The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2021’
Despite the introduction of several survivor-centric mechanisms to ensure expeditious redressal of rape and crimes of sexual violence through special investigation teams and efficacious procedures, the non-implementation of the AntiRape Act continues to re-victimise the survivor/victim of sexual violence as s/ he navigates the CJS for the registration of FIR and Medico-legal Examination (MLE).
The intent behind the introduction of the anti-rape crisis cells (ARCCs) is to provide a multi-coordinated approach to a survivor/victim of sexual violence by placing CJS stakeholders together so that the victim/survivor does not have to travel to multiple locations in a state of vulnerability.
As per Section 4 of the Anti-Rape Act, ARCCs are to be established in public hospitals with adequate medical facilities. The power, duties and functions of the ARCCs are mentioned under Section 5 of the Act. It states that the ARCC shall “… without any delay ensure the following, namely: (a) conduct of a medico-legal examination without any delay; (b) securing, collection and gathering of such evidence as may be expedient; (c) conduct of a forensic analysis or examination; (d) registration of an first information report (FIR) by the police; and (e) performing of any other action as may be necessary.”
However, the ARCCs have not even been established in any province across Pakistan.
In the Bahaudin Zakaria Express rape case, a multi-stakeholder coordinated approach has not been seen. The FIR was lodged with the Karachi police on May 29 (with a delay of two days). The MLE was conducted at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) in Karachi.
It is of utmost importance that the ARRCs are established in all districts of each city across the country. In many cases that do not receive media highlight, the CJS stakeholders do not provide expedited services. This results in the loss of critical evidence. As a result, many rape cases result in a compromise, even though rape is a non-compoundable offence. According to the ‘Gap Analysis on Investigation and Prosecution of Rape and Sodomy Cases’ (2020) by the Legal Aid Society (LAS), average time taken to report to the police from the date of incident was revealed to be 1.3 months whereas average time taken in MLE was revealed to be 16.03 days.
The important questions that need to be asked are that: where are the ARCCs? Why have they not been established yet despite being mandated by the Anti-Rape Act? Why is curbing sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) not a priority for the PML-N led government?
Additionally, the police have revealed that they registered a case against the suspects under sections 376 (punishment for rape) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). However, it is important to note that the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2021 inserted ‘375A’ titled ‘Gang rape’ into the PPC. Nevertheless, this section was not utilised. This highlights that despite the enactment of the law, the police force has not been effectively trained on the correct use of the new sections relating to sexual violence in the PPC.
The federal and provincial governments must ensure the urgent implementation of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trail) Act 2021 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2021.