What is domestic violence?
The definition of “torture” in the legal sense involves deliberate infliction of pain. According to human rights activists, domestic violence is of various types. If someone from a family, including husband, father, and brother, physically abuses a girl or a woman, it is deemed as domestic violence. If a husband doesn’t talk to his wife, doesn’t react, or keeps his wife deprived of her basic support or position, it is considered a form of violence. Under the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2009, men cannot physically torture women, children, and domestic employees.
In Pakistan many women protection laws have been introduced against Violence specifically to address the issue of domestic violence; under these laws and special women’s protection cells have been established in police stations Sindh as well as in Punjab. These laws of the State provided the strong shelter and veil to the women that a woman can’t be forced to leave the house where she is living; it is her right to continue to live there. If her husband forces her to leave the house, she can make an application to restrain him under the laws and if the husband is involved in violence, wife has the right to expel him from the house until the matter is resolved to both parties’ satisfaction.
Neelum, a resident of Rawalpindi, along with her child Zayan, is currently living at a private shelter home. Neelum and Zayan were shifted there due to a risk to their lives.
Psychologists are of the opinion that children get affected by the environment in which they are brought up, and it leaves a life-long impact on their psychological wellbeing and personality.
In Pakistan, Zayan is not the only child in this plight. Sadly, there are hundreds of thousands of children like him who are exposed to various types of violence and abuse. Sometimes, their traumas lead them to violence later in their lives. Rawalpindi Division SSP (Investigation) Ghazanfar Ali Shah says that a large majority of offenders of such type of violence and abuse are themselves victims of similar traumas.
On average, in Pakistan, eight children were abused every day in one form or the other; 51 percent of the victims are girls and 49 percent boys. The report states that 2020, compared to the previous year, saw a four percent increase in child abuse cases.
Psychologists say that children who witness domestic violence are at a serious risk to long-term physical and mental health problems. Children who witness violence between parents may be at a greater risk of being violent in their future relationships. Mental health experts say that young children who experience spousal violence are prone to unsavoury habits such as thumb-sucking, increased crying, and whining.
According to Neelum, she was a victim of perpetual violence since her marriage to Irfan Hussain. Her husband started beating her just two weeks after their marriage, and after that, it become a routine affair. She was not even spared during her pregnancy, adding that it was a special blessing of the Almighty that she could survive her pregnancy. Violence didn’t end even after childbirth. It happened two weeks after her child’s delivery, causing rupturing of stitches, leading to months-long complication and pain. Her husband has issued threats against her in case she fails to return to him. She said that he even lit a fire outside her parents’ home as a warning of his intentions.
A team from the Saddar Bairuni police station, after receiving a call from a neighbour, rescued Neelum from her husband’s captivity. The neighbour said that Neelum was crying for help as she was being severely beaten; someone heard her cries and informed the local police. ASI Waqas, along with his team, raided the house and rescued her.
In the presence of her in-laws, her husband brutally beat her, injuring her nose and decreeing divorce thrice. When she tried to flee, he dragged her to the washroom and locked her there in her injured condition, according to Neelum. “When the police team raided, I was locked in the washroom. I was rescued and taken to the police station, but Irfan’s uncle was already there.”
Whether to call it lack of coordination between police, medical team and Dara-ul-Aman officials, lack of support behind the victim, or weak will of the officers concerned, Neelum’s medical check-up took more than two weeks, by which time her injuries, which can clearly be seen in a video and photos available to this correspondent, had been healed. The police team that rescued Neelum were also witness to her condition caused by physical torture. According to Neelum, the medical team didn’t examine the areas she highlighted. “I asked the medical officer at the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Hospital that I have pain in my ribs and shoulders, but the team didn’t pay any attention.” As a result, the medical report didn’t establish a solid case against her husband Irfan.
However, the investigation officer Waqas, a witness of torture against Neelum, when contacted said that there is no law that allows police to interfere in a couple’s personal affairs. He said that it was a conflict between a husband and a wife, and police don’t interfere in such domestic matters, adding that despite that he rescued the girl on human grounds. It is to be noted that ASI Waqas was leading the police team that rescued Neelum from her former “husband’s custody” in her injured condition.
Regarding the delay in FIR, the investigation officer responded that the victim’s medical report is not strong enough to file a case against the offender. “If the victim has any fracture or a deep wound, a strong case could be registered against him,” ASI Waqas said in his telephonic interview with this correspondent.
The law is strong enough and gives protection to women against violence, but that is only possible if the law is implemented in its true letter and spirit. In our justice system, laws protect those victims who have strong financial or political backgrounds. In Neelum’s case, she neither has a strong political nor financial background.
Pakistan is overflowing in legislations. The thing that lacks is implementation, which seems to be impossible in the prevailing investigation and justice systems. The need is the True implementation of the domestic violence laws and needs a transparent system and merit-based unbiased police force as well as a responsive court system, but unfortunately, “Our country is very much in crisis in this regard.
Laws are strong or are, in fact, more supportive of women, but only for those with a strong backing. Neelum’s case is muddled. Despite the availability of proof of torture against her, the offender could not be brought to justice. Although police have registered a case now, delays in obtaining a medico legal certificate (MLC) have weakened her case.
Under the police rules the investigation officer is required to approach the hospital for an MLC of the victim within twenty-four hours of the incident. If any investigation officer commits a delay, and there is evidence of that, the department is required to take a strict action against that officer. But unfortunately most of the time, non-availability of a medical team at a hospital, particularly in rural areas, could cause a delay in the issuance of an MLC (Medico-Legal-Certificate)
Law concerning domestic violence is not an issue, but implementation is circumvented by outside influence and interference, poor execution of courts’ decisions, and lack of honesty, dedication and will of enforcers. There are thousands of women in our society who are forced to tolerate violence in their homes due to various push and pull factors.
And a huge lacuna in our society when the incident took place and when a case reported in a police station, many informal channels are activated to settle the dispute. In such situations police cannot stop interventions. Often, in cases in which a husband or in-laws commit violence or torture against a woman, even the elders or other family members of the victim get involved to advise reconciliation or a patch-up after reporting of the incident.
To control gender-based violence, the provincial governments have established special women compliant cells at district level. The In-charge Women Complaint Cells have stated that they have received many complaints that show an increased ratio of domestic violence in the district. But none of the complainants allowed them to take action against their partners or in-laws. Most of them [women] sought help to deter violence against them. When asked what reasons prompted that behaviour, they said that women’s financial dependence on their husbands is the leading factor that bars them to go against the offender, “Growing inflation has further aggravated women’s vulnerability against domestic violence. Most of the complainants when suggested a separate life instead of bearing everyday mental and physical torture say that they have nowhere to go with their children as they don’t have any alternative support. Financial dependence and other societal pressures force women to bear violence.
Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan provides for prohibiting torture for purposes of extraction of evidence that although Pakistan had ratified the UN Convention Against Torture six years ago, the legislation has not been actualized.
There is an urgent need for federal and provincial governments to make the prevention of violence against women and children one of their topmost priorities with clear directions and resources. All legislation, rules and directives related to this subject need to be identified and pulled together for an overall review, updating and implementation.
In countries where law enforcing agencies take violence against women and children extremely seriously have a starting point: victim’s complaint is taken as a matter of fact and investigation is initiated accordingly. The onus of the proof is shifted to the perpetrator. This is also the case for complaints involving violence, abuse, sexual harassment, and rape.
In societies where violence against women and children is treated as a major crime, specialist units are set up to support victims with the authorities working closely with third sector stakeholders. Arrangements are put in place for regular briefings, consultations, joint trainings, reviews and updating of legislation, protocols and rules.
In Pakistan, the legislation framework exists and can be improved, but it is implementation, lack of coordination, lack of resources and investment, gender biases in a patriarchal setup where women are generally treated as second class citizens, and political and community influences that combine to circumvent women and children from getting justice—their basic human right. As society we may have travelled a lot, but we still have a very long way to go when it comes to rights of women and children.