ISLAMABAD: Activists have welcomed the Pakistani government’s decision to broaden the definition of rape and establish special courts to expedite prosecution of rape cases under a new law but raised concerns about the law’s implementation in a country where the conviction rate in rape cases is less than five percent.
The Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 and Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Ordinance 2020, passed by the cabinet on Tuesday, is now awaiting the president’s approval, after which it will be immediately put into effect as an ordinance and within 120 days subjected to parliamentary vote.
“This is an important legislation, and the government must have a plan to enact a law through the parliament after expiry of the ordinances,” Nighat Dad, a lawyer and activist, told Arab News on Friday.
“Many progressive provisions have been included in the proposed law ... but only strict implementation can ensure the timely justice,” Dad added, saying the government must improve the process of investigation and prosecution.
The ordinance lists as possible rape victims not only women, but also men and transgender persons, and widens the crime’s scope by including provisions on gang rape, consent and sexual violence. The definition of penetration has been broadened to include all its forms, while the archaic and controversial two-finger virginity test of rape victims has been banned.
The new legislation has come in the wake of a series of headline-grabbing rape cases across the country, including the gang-rape of a woman, in front of her minor children, along a major highway. The case spurred cries of outrage as rights activists and citizens demanded that the government do more to stem violence against women, including ensuring perpetrators were held accountable in a country that has seen over 3,500 rapes this year.
Pakistan already has severe sentences for rape though they are seldom implemented: 10-25 years in prison for rape and life imprisonment or death for gang rape.
Other salient provisions of the new legislation are chemical castration of rape convicts, and the protection of the identity of victims and witnesses by holding trials through a video link or by using screens in courtrooms. The law will also ban publishing or broadcasting of any material or information related to court proceedings in rape cases.
While the establishment of special courts under the law will help expedite prosecution in rape cases, Zohra Yusuf, former chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said more had to be done to improve the pre-trial process.
“The focus should be on timely collection of relevant evidence and their early presentation in the court to ensure conviction of the criminals,” she said, adding that she was opposed to the death penalty for rape convicts, which will be applicable under the new law.
The new legislation also introduces a sentence of life and capital punishment.
“We should focus on implementation of the laws and ensure certainty of punishment to curb the crime instead of increasing the punishment,” Maliha Zia Lari, associate director at Legal Aid Society, told Arab News. “The biggest problem to increase conviction rate in rape cases is lack of resources and skills of investigators.”