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Violence Against Women
The Domestic Violence Bill 2021

The Domestic Violence Bill 2021

When the federal government introduced a bill to prevent violence against women, the people of Pakistan were hopeful that it would help lessen the ever-increasing cases of domestic abuse and provide refuge to people from physical or emotional assault. But the opposition saw the contents of the Bill to be challenging patriarchal violence too brazenly, and so the Islamic Ideological Council deliberately rejected the bill. It seems that the people in charge aren’t just complicit in but are actively contributing to Pakistan’s problems.

The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2021 was introduced to punish all acts of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse against women, children and other vulnerable persons, or any other person with whom the respondent is or has been in a domestic relationship. The main aims of the Bill were to provide relief and rehabilitation for victims of domestic abuse and any other vulnerable people such as the elderly, assist victims in distancing themselves from abuse through the creation of a Protection Committee and allow Courts to grant interim orders, protection custody, and financial compensation to victims. 

According to the Bill, stalking, invasion of privacy, character assassination and insults would also be classified as forms of domestic violence. Therefore, the Bill provided a much wider scope for protection of women, covering forms of abuse beyond just physical harassment. The Bill also included imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs. 100,000 for domestic violence. Another recommendation of the Bill was the recruitment of Protection Officers who would be responsible for reporting domestic violence cases and collecting data. 

On April 19th, 2021, Shireen Mazari, the Human Rights Minister, moved the Bill in the National Assembly and, on the same day, it passed in the lower house. The Opposition sent the Bill to a standing committee who were then asked by the Senate to submit a report on it. Their report suggested multiple amendments to the Bill. It was then referred back to the Lower House of Parliament. However, in June, the Opposition began to raise concerns over the Bill.

Babar Awan, adviser to the Prime Minister on parliamentary affairs, wrote to Asad Qaiser, National Assembly speaker, to raise concerns over the content of the Bill. The letter stated that the Bill should be referred to the Islamic Council to ensure it is in line with the Constitution of Paksitan and the principles of Islam. However, many people have criticized this decision as the Council, in 2016, proposed a law that would allow a husband to lightly beat his wife. There is an established precedent of the Islamic Ideological Council encouraging men who are violent towards their partners, and then safeguarding them after their crime has been committed. Religious groups have also criticized the definition of domestic violence as stated in the Bill as being too vague and too broad. They claim that having such a broad definition can lead to the legislation being misused. Even though countless women die every year due to domestic violence in Pakistan, our leaders have failed to take decisive action to protect them, let alone to punish their abusers. . 

According to research, around 70 to 90% of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence. As the pandemic continues, this issue is becoming increasingly prevalent. In Sindh, where the Domestic Violence Bill is already legislated, was it able to save Qurat-ul-Ain from being beaten to death by her husband? How could she take refuge in the law, given the social structures that protect men and villainise women who dare speak up? These laws are nonetheless the first step needed to ensure the safety and rehabilitation of victims and the punishment of abusers, and to establish a precedent of our leaders actually caring about the violence that affects women disproportionately. The recent domestic violence cases in Pakistan have only emphasized the dire need for the Bill – a hope for top-down decisive action to punish those that we as a society have failed to hold accountable.

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