Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, with punishment that ranges from a minimum of 10 to 25 years in prison and a fine to the death penalty. The penalty for gang rape is either death or life imprisonment, but in practice sentences were often less severe. Although rape was frequent, prosecutions were rare. Spousal rape is not a crime under the current penal code.
Under the law the crime of rape falls under the jurisdiction of criminal rather than Islamic courts. The NGO Aurat Foundation estimated that 88 percent of women in prison were convicted of adultery, many of them after reporting rape. Under the law in cases of rape police are not allowed to arrest or hold a woman overnight at a police station without a civil court judge’s consent. The law requires a complaint to be made directly to a sessions court. After recording the victim’s statement, the sessions court judge officially lodges a complaint, after which police can then make any arrests. While this procedure was meant to eliminate problems relating to social norms that make it difficult for women to go to the police, NGOs reported that it created other barriers for rape victims who did not have money to travel to the courts or access to the courts. Rape continued to be a severely underreported crime.
In December 2010 the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) declared several clauses of the law un-Islamic and unconstitutional. The verdict sought to reinstate certain provisions of the 1979 Hudood Ordinance and expand the FSC’s jurisdiction in cases of adultery and false accusations of adultery. The FSC directed its judgment to the federal government, as well as the provincial and Islamabad high courts for implementation. The federal government appealed the FSC’s decision to the Supreme Court in May. The Supreme Court had not set a hearing date by year’s end.
There were no reliable national, provincial, or local statistics on rape due to underreporting and the lack of any centralized law enforcement data collection system. However, based on media reports, the Aurat Foundation estimated that nationally 396 women were raped between January and June.
Prosecutions of reported rapes were rare. Police and NGOs reported that false rape charges sometimes were filed in different types of disputes, reducing the ability of police to assess real cases and proceed with prosecution. NGOs reported that police at times were implicated in rape cases. NGOs also alleged that police sometimes abused or threatened victims, demanding that they drop charges, especially when police received bribes from suspected perpetrators. Some police demanded bribes from some victims before registering rape charges, and investigations were sometimes superficial. While the use of postrape medical testing increased during the year, medical personnel in many areas did not have sufficient training or equipment, which further complicated prosecutions. Extra judicial resolutions to rape accusations were common, with a victim often forced to marry her attacker.
In September the family members of Kainat Soomro, a 2007 gang rape victim, were attacked in Karachi. In June 2010 Sabir Soomro, the brother of Kainat Soomro was found dead near Khuzdar, Balochistan. The family alleged that the perpetrators had been pressuring the family to withdraw the case. All four accused men previously had been acquitted and released. At the end of June 2010, President Zardari ordered a new inquiry; there was no new information on the inquiry at year’s end.
On April 21, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Shakirullah Jan, upheld the original verdict of the Lahore High Court in the Mukhtar Mai gang-rape case. Initially 14 defendants were charged with either rape or collusion to commit rape; eight of the defendants were acquitted in the original trial. Of the six convicted of rape by the trial court, five were acquitted on appeal, and the sixth had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. In May Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan filed a review petition. The petition sought a review of the three-member bench decision by a large bench. This petition remained pending at year’s end.
Rape by police officials also was a problem (see section 1.c.).
No specific law prohibits domestic violence, which was a widespread and serious problem. Husbands reportedly beat and occasionally killed their wives. Other forms of domestic violence included torture, physical disfigurement, and shaving the eyebrows and hair off women’s heads. In-laws abused and harassed the wives of their sons. Dowry and family-related disputes often resulted in death or disfigurement by burning or acid.
According to the Aurat Foundation, the media reported 8,539 cases of violence against women, a decrease from 2010. The foundation’s data showed there were reports of 1,575 women killed, 2,089 abducted, 610 victims of domestic violence, 110 sexually assaulted, 44 victims of acid attacks, 29 victims of burning, 827 raped, and 758 as having committed suicide. The foundation noted that their analysis attributed the reduction in reporting to a declining law and order situation in Sindh and Balochistan as well as flooding in July.
According to a 2008 HRCP report, 80 percent of wives in rural Punjab feared violence from their husbands, and nearly 50 percent of wives in developed urban areas admitted that their husbands beat them.
Women who tried to report abuse faced serious challenges. Police and judges were sometimes reluctant to take action in domestic violence cases, viewing them as family problems. Instead of filing charges, police typically responded by encouraging the parties to reconcile. Abused women usually were returned to their abusive family members. Women were reluctant to pursue charges because of the stigma attached to divorce and their economic and psychological dependence on relatives. Relatives were hesitant to report abuse due to fear of dishonoring the family.
To address societal norms that frowned on victims who reported gender-based violence and abuse, the government established women’s police stations, staffed by female officers, to offer women a safe haven where they could safely report complaints and file charges. Men are also able to utilize these police stations. The 12 women’s police stations in the country were located in Karachi (3), Larkana (1), Hyderabad (1), Sukkur (1), Lahore (1), Faisalabad (1), Rawalpindi (1), Peshawar (1), Abbottabad (1), Quetta (1), and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) in Islamabad City. Women’s police stations continued to struggle with understaffing and limited equipment. Training for female police officers and changing cultural assumptions of male police officers also remained challenges. Due to restrictions on women’s mobility and social pressures related to women’s public presence, utilization of women’s police centers was limited, but NGOs and officials reported that use was growing and that more centers were needed.
The government operated the Crisis Center for Women in Distress, which referred abused women to NGOs for assistance. A total of 26 government-funded Shaheed Benazir Bhutto centers for women across the country provided women with temporary shelter, legal aid, medical treatment, and psychosocial counseling. These centers served women who were victims of exploitation and violence. Victims later were referred to “darul aman” (approximately 200 centers for women and child victims established with funds from the Provincial Women Development Department). These centers provided shelter, access to medical treatment, limited legal representation, and some vocational training. Many government centers were full beyond capacity and lacked sufficient staff and resources. In some cases women were abused at the government-run shelters, found their movements severely restricted, or were pressured to return to their abusers.
Harmful Traditional Practices: Women were victims of various types of societal violence and abuse, including honor killings; facial, bodily, and genital mutilation; forced marriages; imposed isolation; and being used to settle disputes. Women often were treated as chattel, and perpetrators were often husbands and other male family members.
Hundreds of women reportedly were victims of honor killings. Many cases went unreported and unpunished. The Aurat Foundation reported 382 honor killings between January and June and estimated that less than 2 percent of all honor killings were reported. The practice of “karo-kari” continued across the country. (Karo-kari is a form of premeditated honor killing that occurs if a tribal court or jirga determines that adultery or some other “crime of honor” occurred. Karo-kari means “black male” (karo) and “black female” (kari), metaphoric terms for someone who has dishonored the family or is an adulterer or adulteress.) Once a woman is labeled as a kari, male family members have the self-authorized justification to kill her and any co-accused karo to restore family honor. In many cases the karo is not killed or is able to flee.
Human rights groups criticized the law banning karo-kari because it allows the victim or the victim’s heirs to negotiate physical or monetary restitution with the perpetrator in exchange for dropping charges.
Police in Sindh established karo-kari cells with a toll-free telephone number in the districts of Sukkur, Ghotki, Khairpur, and Nausharo Feroze for persons to report karo-kari incidents. Because honor crimes generally occurred within families, many went unreported. However, police and NGOs reported that increased media coverage enabled law enforcement to take some action against a limited number of perpetrators.
The practice of cutting off a woman’s nose or ears, especially in relation to honor crimes, was reported (also see section 1.c.). For example, on June 20, Muhammad Riaz cut off his 22-year-old wife’s nose before turning himself over to police in Haripur, KP. He accused his wife of having an affair.
Many young girls and women were victims of forced marriages arranged by their families. Although forced marriage is a criminal offense and many cases were filed, prosecution remained a problem. There were reports of citizens abroad bringing their daughters back to the country, taking away their legal documents, and forcing them into marriage against their will.
The practice of buying and selling brides also continued in rural areas, although prohibited by law. Many tribes, communities, or families continued the practice of sequestering women from all contact with men other than their relatives. Despite prohibitions on handing over women as compensation for crimes or as a resolution of a dispute (also known as “vani” or “swara”), the practice continued in Punjab and KP. In rural Sindh landowning families continued the practice of “marriage to the Qur’an,” forcing a female family member to stay unmarried to avoid division of property. Property of women married to the Qur’an remained under the legal control of their fathers or eldest brothers, and such women were prohibited from contact with any man older than age 14. These women were expected to stay in the home and not to contact anyone outside their families.
In response to these issues, on December 12, the Senate unanimously passed the Prevention of Anti-Women Practice Amendment 2008. The law criminalizes and punishes giving a female in marriage as consideration to settle a civil or criminal dispute; depriving a woman of her rights to properly inherit movable or immovable property by deceitful or illegal means; coercing or in any manner compelling a woman to enter into marriage; and compelling, arranging, or facilitating the marriage of a woman with the Qur’an, including forcing her oath on the Qur’an to remain unmarried or not to claim her share of an inheritance. During the same session the Senate also unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Practice Bill 2010, which makes maiming or killing via corrosive substance a crime and imposes stiff penalties against perpetrators. These laws are not applicable to FATA and PATA unless the president issues a notification in this regard.
A third bill, passed on December 13, promises economic and other support to women in prison who are unable to defend themselves legally or post bail for lack of familial support and funds.
NGOs and women’s activists stressed that while these laws were positive steps, implementation remained a serious challenge.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a widespread problem. Press reports indicated that harassment was especially high among domestic workers and nurses. In a survey conducted by the Daily Times in August 2010, female government and private sector employees complained about the abusive behavior of their male colleagues and senior officials. They said some officers sought “undue favors” by blocking salaries, benefits, promotions, transfers, and postings.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children but often lacked the information and means to do so. Young girls and women were especially vulnerable to problems related to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. They often lacked information and means to access care. Spousal opposition also contributed to the challenges women faced in obtaining contraception or delaying pregnancy. Access by women, particularly in rural areas, to health and reproductive rights education remained difficult due to social constraints. For these same reasons data collection was also difficult.
Only 39 percent of births took place in the presence of a skilled birth attendant; within the poorest 20 percent of the population, this figure dropped to 16 percent. According to the 2006-2007 Demographic and Health Survey, 35 percent of women received no prenatal care. According to UNICEF’s data, 61 percent of woman received antenatal care at least once during their pregnancy or delivery, with only 28 percent receiving it four times or more.
According to UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children Report, the country had a maternal mortality rate of 276 deaths per 100,000 live births; the high rate was attributed to lack of information and services. Women in rural areas were at twice the risk of dying of birth-related causes than women in urban areas (maternal mortality rates of 319 and 175 deaths per 100,000 live births, respectively). The rate increased to 785 deaths per 100,000 live births in Balochistan Province. Few women in rural areas had access to skilled attendants during childbirth, including essential obstetrics and postpartum care. According to UNICEF the situation for mothers and children in the country was complicated by deteriorating security, which caused displacement and affected access to medical services, especially in KP and FATA.
According to a 2007 UN Population Fund estimate, only 17 percent of the country’s women between the ages of 15 and 24 knew that a person could reduce HIV risk through condom use. Women were less likely than men to be diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted infections, due to the social stigma attached to visiting a doctor, among other factors. According to the UNAIDS 2009 report, the country had an estimated 98,000 HIV cases, of which approximately 28,000 were women age 15 or older; the National Aids Control Program (NACP) estimated that only 5 percent of cases were actually recorded. Although HIV prevalence among women was less than 1 percent, some groups of women, including professional prostitutes, women, and girls forced into prostitution, and wives of migrant workers were highly vulnerable.
Discrimination: Women also faced legal and economic discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but in practice authorities did not enforce this provision. Women faced discrimination in family law, property law, and the judicial system. Family law provides protection for women in cases of divorce, including requirements for maintenance, and lays out clear guidelines for custody of minor children and their maintenance. However, many women were unaware of these legal protections or unable to obtain legal counsel to enforce them. Divorced women were often left with no means of support, as their families ostracized them. Women are legally free to marry without family consent, but women who did so often were ostracized or faced becoming the victims of honor crimes.
The inheritance law also clearly discriminates against women; however, the 2008 Anti-Women Practices Act, passed in December, made it illegal to deny women’s inheritance of property by deceitful means. Female children are entitled to one-half the inheritance of male children. Wives inherit one-eighth of their husband’s estate. In practice women often received far less than their legal entitlement.
Women also faced significant discrimination in employment and frequently were paid less than men for similar work. In many rural areas of the country, strong societal pressure prevented women from working outside the home. Some tribes continued the traditional practice of sequestering women from all contact with men other than relatives.