Relentless violence – 04 Dec 2022

ANOTHER day, another shocking incident of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

In November, in a heart-wrenching incident, a seven-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Quaidabad, Karachi. There were extensive injuries to her body. According to the police, the girl had gone missing the day before and her body was found thrown on an under-construction building site.

In October, a nine-year-old girl from a family of flood refugees from Shikarpur district was abducted and gang..raped in Karachi. In a statement to the police, the doctor who examined the child said that the condition of the victim was so terrible that she had to be examined in the operation theatre.

In September, a rich, well-educated young woman named Sarah Inam, a dual CanadianPakistani national, was brutally murdered allegedly by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at his farmhouse in Islamabad. This case of GBV has slipped off the radar as the media no longer covers the legal proceedings. It seems as if the matter has been hushed up.

GBV is endemic, relentless and classless. It has a serious impact on the physical, mental and emotional health of girls and women.

Their lives are always at risk. A number of reports of international organisations suggest that violence against women and girls has reached devastating levels across the globe.

According to a UN report, one in three females aged 15 or older, or approximately 736 million women and girls worldwide, have suffered physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life. The most recent global estimate revealed that a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes on average.

Let`s focus on Pakistan. Statistics on violence against women here show a sharp increase during the last three years.

Representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights informed the National Assembly in October that 63,367 cases of violence against women were registered in the country during the last three years. According to National Police Bureau data, 11,160 were rape/gangrape cases. Out of this total, 4,637 rape/gangrape cases were registered in 2019; 4,133 in 2020 and 2,390 in 2021.

Aside from this, 1,578 women were murdered in 2019, while 1,569 were slain in 2020 and 840 in 2021. The year 2019 saw 2,018 cases women being beaten. In 2020, there were 2,019 cases reported and 1,134 women received punches, kicks and slaps in 2021.

There were 13,916 cases of kidnapping registered in 2019; in 2020, there were 12,809 cases filed; another 7,651 cases were registered in 2021. During the last three years, 77 cases of incest and 103 cases of acid-throwingwere filed with the police. The perennial question is: how many such cases have not been registered? Other offences filed with the police in the last three years include vani (which often involves marriage of underage girls), custodial violence, physical harassment, sexual harassment and 7,137 cases of abduction of females. This worrying trend shows how unsafe most women and girls are in Pakistan.

And these are police statistics: the actual number could be much higher as most such cases are not reported or registered with law enforcement. It can be safely assumed that incidents of GBV are underreported in Pakistan, and have an extremely low conviction rate.

Although various laws on GBV have been passed, it is not enough to prevent such incidents. Enacting legislation may be the first step, but unless it is translated into policy and its implementation ensured, there is not much impact. Many bottlenecks have to be removed before we see any significant reduction in cases.Some of the main reasons that create hindrance in reporting cases are: ineffective implementation of laws, inefficient police investiga-tion and discouraging police attitude towards women survivors, victim-blaming, social stigma, no social support mechanisms, gender-insensitive court environment, and slow and lengthy court proceedings.

From Nov 25 to Dec 10, the UN is marking 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence under the theme,`UNIT E ! Activism to end violence against women and girls`.

Pakistan is also part of this global campaign.

The Pakistani government should encourage multi-sectoral coordinated efforts with UN agencies, women rights organisations and the media. The Ministry of Human Rights, National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women and other rights bodies must develop mechanisms for close coordination and engagement to promote and protect women`s rights.

The need of the hour is to develop shortterm and long-term multipronged strategies and policies to address this issue holistically.

Instead of limiting themselves to a few awareness-raising seminars and publications, the commissions, NGOs and federal and provincial governments should focus resources and services on women survivors of gender-based violence.• The writer is a lawyer

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