Pakistani lawmakers seek to decriminalize attempted suicide to save lives, abolish stigma

Pakistani rescuers, right, engage with a man who climbed a high tension pylon to commit suicide attempt as a protest for not receiving justice over the murder of his father, in Islamabad on March 9, 2018. (AFP/File)
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Updated 11 February 2022
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Pakistani lawmakers seek to decriminalize attempted suicide to save lives, abolish stigma

  • Survivor of a suicide attempt can face a year in prison along with a financial penalty under the country’s existing law
  • The World Health Organization maintains about 24 million people need psychiatric assistance in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament is all set to repeal a law that treats attempted suicide as a criminal offence to save lives and abolish the stigma associated with the act, said a mover of the proposed legislation on Thursday.

Section 325 of the British-era Pakistan Penal Code says a person will face imprisonment for a year or financial penalty or both for trying to commit suicide.

Senator Shahadat Awan of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) moved the bill in the upper house of parliament last year to repeal the law. Last week, a parliamentary committee unanimously passed the bill which would now be tabled in the Senate and National Assembly for a vote.

“This is an inhuman colonial-era law which must be repealed to save precious lives and abolish a stigma attached to it,” Awan told Arab News on Thursday.

He noted the law was implemented in a country where, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental disorders accounted for more than four percent of the total disease burden.

It is estimated that 24 million people in Pakistan are in need of psychiatric assistance. However, the country’s resources for screening and treatment of mental health disorders are not enough to meet its growing needs.

WHO maintains Pakistan has one of the lowest number of psychiatrists in the world, adding there are only about 0.19 therapists per 100,000 of its inhabitants.

“We need to realize that someone who attempts to commit suicide must be suffering from depression, mental illness or disorder,” Awan continued.

“The issue of suicide needs to be dealt with as a disease and should be treated as such,” he said while arguing that the existing law jeopardized lives of those who survive an attempt.

The PPP senator said the law made it mandatory for a medical facility to inform the police about an attempted suicide before treating and saving life of the individual concerned.

“Police later arrest such people and charge them for the offence,” he said. “This is a social stigma that needs to be done away.”

The World Health Organization Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan (2021-2030) also calls for the decriminalization of attempted suicide. Such instances are still counted as crime in at least 25 countries across the world including Pakistan.

Dr. Wajahat Khan, a psychiatrist, said that every second or third person out of ten in Pakistan was suffering from some kind of mental or emotional issue that should be addressed without further complications.

“Financial crisis, family issues and unhealthy lifestyle are some of the major reasons behind the deterioration of mental health of our people,” he told Arab News.

Khan said issues like anxiety, depression and stress could be treated with therapy, medicines and family support of a patient.

“Unfortunate, mental health issues are still considered a taboo subject in Pakistan,” he added. “Many people shy away from going to clinics for check-up due to social stigma associated with them.”


Pakistan reviews measures to protect Chinese workers as visiting dignitary raises concerns

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan reviews measures to protect Chinese workers as visiting dignitary raises concerns

  • Liu Jianchao, a prominent Chinese minister, said this week Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining investor confidence
  • Killing of five Chinese nationals in suicide bombing in March has put the spotlight on the security of Chinese workers in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi held a meeting on Saturday to review security measures for foreigners in Pakistan, particularly Chinese workers who have been the target of several recent militant attacks.

The killing of five Chinese nationals in a suicide bombing on their convoy in northwest Pakistan on March 26 has put the spotlight on the security of Chinese workers, many of whom work on road, infrastructure and development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship of the Belt and Road scheme.

During a visit to Islamabad on Friday, Liu Jianchao, a prominent Chinese minister, said Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining investor confidence. The following day, Saturday, the Pakistani interior minister chaired a meeting to review the “overall security situation in the country.”

“The meeting reviewed the measures taken to protect foreigners, especially Chinese citizens,” the interior ministry said in a statement. “Naqvi directed strict adherence to the SOPs of the security plan … emphasized that the formulated plan should be regularly monitored at every level.”

The minister called on relevant security and intelligence agencies to keep “close coordination to thwart the nefarious designs of anti-national elements.”

“There is no room for negligence in the implementation of the security plan,” the statement quoted Naqvi as saying.

Addressing the 3rd Meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM) in Islamabad on Friday, Liu said security threats were the “main hazards” to CPEC cooperation. 

“As people often say, confidence is more precious than gold. In the case of Pakistan, the primary factor shaking the confidence of Chinese investors is the security situation,” the official said in rare public comments by Beijing on Pakistan’s security challenges. “Without security, the business environment cannot really improve.”

The March 26 attack on the Chinese convoy en route to a hydropower project in Dasu was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests in Pakistan, where Beijing has pledged over $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative.

The Mar. 26 bombing followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, including the deep-sea port of Gwadar, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.

Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.

Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.

Chinese interests are mostly under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan.


Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistan’s Sindh province suspends human milk bank, refers initiative to Islamic Ideology Council

  • Pakistan’s first human milk bank was set up earlier this month by Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology
  • Facility was established in collaboration with UNICEF, described as “significant milestone in maternal health”

ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Institute of Child Health and Neonatology (SICHN) said this week Pakistan’s first human milk bank established earlier this month had been suspended pending further guidance from the Council of Islamic Ideology.

A human milk bank, breast milk bank or lactarium is a service that collects, screens, processes, pasteurizes, and dispenses by prescription human milk donated by nursing mothers who are not biologically related to the recipient infant. For women who are unable to breastfeed or produce enough milk, pasteurized donor breast milk can be an effective approach to feeding.

SICHN earlier this month announced its human milk bank facility, Pakistan’s first, established in collaboration with UNICEF, describing it as a “significant milestone in maternal health.”

“A recent revised fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Karachi dated 16ht June 2024 has prompted us to discontinue the functionality of the Human Milk Bank. This decision is in compliance with the updated religious guidance and reflects our ongoing commitment to operate within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence,” SICHN said in a statement dated June 21. 

“Moving forward, we will seek further guidance on this issue from both Darul Uloom Karachi and the Council of Islamic Ideology,” the statement added, referring to a religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam.

SICHN said the milk bank was initially set up after seeking and receiving a fatwa from the Darul Uloom Karachi, “which provided us with the necessary religious endorsement to proceed.” 

“This fatwa was critical in ensuring that our efforts were in harmony with Islamic teachings, providing reassurance to the community and stakeholders involved,” the institute said. 

The fatwa cited certain pre-conditions to establish the milk bank including that Muslim children should only be provided milk from Muslim mothers.

Iran is currently believed to be the only country in the Muslim world with a network of milk banks. In general, Islam makes the practice tricky. The opposition centers on a tenet called milk kinship, which states that a parent-child bond is formed when a woman gives milk to a baby who isn’t biologically related to her. 

To avoid future incestuous marriages between so-called milk siblings, the tenet says, the foster relationship must be clearly delineated. Since milk bank donors are typically anonymous and the donations are often combined, the practice is rejected in most of the Muslim world.


Pakistani PM vows to continue ‘war against terrorism’ as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistani PM vows to continue ‘war against terrorism’ as five soldiers killed in IED blast 

  • IED blast targeted vehicle carrying security forces in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • 65 police officials killed, 86 wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in the province in the past five months

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Friday his government would continue its “war on terrorism” as five Pakistani soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan.

The IED blast targeted a vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement, amid a rise in terror attacks mostly by the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, an ally of the Afghan Taliban but a separate group, which has stepped up its assaults in the region since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021. Pakistan says the TTP uses Afghan soil for attacks in Pakistan, a charge that Kabul denies. 

“The entire nation pays tribute to the martyrs and stands united against terrorism,” Sharif said after the latest attack, vowing to “continue the war against the menace till its complete elimination.”

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent years, predominantly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In January 2023 militants killed at least 101 people, mostly police officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Earlier this month, the counter-terrorism department (CTD) of police in Peshawar issued a report, saying 65 police officials were killed while another 86 were wounded in 237 incidents of terrorism in the province in the past five months. It said police had killed 117 militants and arrested 299 others in a series of operations.

Pakistani authorities often say Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are giving shelter to TTP fighters across the unruly border. The Afghan Taliban government insists it doesn’t allow anyone to use Afghan soil for violence in any country. The TTP has also said it was not using Afghan soil for targeting troops in Pakistan.
 


Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

Updated 28 min 32 sec ago
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Pakistan police hunt mob that lynched local tourist accused of blasphemy

  • A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an
  • Lynchings are common in Islamic republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty

PESHAWAR: Pakistani authorities have begun an investigation to identify and arrest members of a mob that killed a local tourist accused of blasphemy, after they ransacked a police station holding him in protective custody, officials said on Friday.
A mob beat the man to death on Thursday night after accusing him of burning pages of the Qur’an. They set the police station in the country’s northwest ablaze and injured eight policemen, Malakand division’s regional police chief Mohammad Ali Gandapur told Reuters.
“After initially rescuing the man from a crowd, the police took him to the station in Madyan, but announcements from mosque loud speakers asked locals to come out,” Gandapur said, after which the mob stormed the station.
Lynchings are common in Pakistan, an Islamic republic where blasphemy can legally carry the death penalty.
Legal processes are frequently preceded by vigilante action based on rumors or complaints. 
Graphic videos of the latest incident, verified to Reuters by the police, showed a frenzied mob dragging a naked and bloodied body through the streets, and then setting it on fire. The footage went viral on social media and sparked outcry among Pakistani users.
Gandapur said the situation was under control and a case registered against the organizers of the mob. He added the man had been visiting the Swat Valley, a popular tourist destination, for the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha.
Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an and later died of his injuries in eastern Pakistan.
In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked global outcry.


Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

Updated 22 June 2024
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Pakistani court orders police to take action against smoke emitting vehicles in Lahore

  • Lahore consistently ranks among world’ most polluted cities every winter when heavy fog envelopes the city
  • Lahore High Court orders police to take action against people who burn crop residue and cause pollution

ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) this week directed traffic police officials to impound vehicles emitting smoke and take stern action against people found burning crop residue in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, state-run media reported, in an attempt to curb pollution in the city. 

Lahore consistently ranks among the world’s most polluted cities every year during the winter season. Last year, toxic smog sickened tens of thousands of people during the winter season, with the thick smog causing flight cancelations and forcing authorities to close schools. The situation got so worse that in a first, Pakistani authorities deployed artificial rain in December 2023 to battle smog.

Lahore, capital of the Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, is in an airshed, an area where pollutants from industry, transportation and other human activities get trapped because of local weather and topography so they cannot disperse easily. The Punjab government has also attributed pollution and smog to crop residue burnt frequently in neighboring India. 

“The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday once again ordered traffic police authorities to take strict action against smoky vehicles and impound them,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said. 

Justice Shahid Karim passed the orders while hearing several identical petitions filed by citizens Haroon Farooq and others against the government’s ineffective measures to control smog. During the proceedings, the court observed that most incidents of crop residue burning took place in the vicinity of the motorway, which connects various cities of the country. 

“Motorway police should take action on the incidents of crop residue burning,” the judge said. “The inspector-general of National Highways and Motorways should ensure the implementation of the court orders.”

Subsequently, the court adjourned further proceedings until the next Friday, June 28.