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 penal code.
As in previous years, the government’s enforcement of the Women’s Protection Act of 2006 was poor. The act brought the crime of rape under the jurisdiction of criminal rather than Islamic courts. In cases of rape, by law 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, a trial court for heinous offences. After recording the victim’s statement, the sessions court judge officially lodges a complaint, after which police can then make arrests. While this procedure was meant to eliminate abuses relating to social norms that make it difficult for women to seek legal redress with police, NGOs reported that it created other barriers for rape victims who could not afford to travel to the courts or access the courts. Rape continued to be a severely underreported crime due to societal taboos that prevented persons from speaking about it.
In 2010 the FSC declared several clauses of the Women’s Protection Act 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 2011. 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 3,461 women were raped between 2008 and 2011, with 827 rapes and gang rapes in 2011.
According to the Aurat Foundation and others, 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 were at times 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 post-rape medical testing increased during the year, medical personnel in many areas did not have sufficient training or equipment, which further complicated prosecutions. Extrajudicial resolutions to rape accusations were common, with a victim often forced to marry her attacker.
On March 21, three men kidnapped a 13-year-old girl from her house and gang-raped her in the Ratta Amral area of Rawalpindi, Punjab. When her father approached the police, they refused to register the FIR. On April 16, the rape victim tried to commit suicide, after which the Supreme Court took notice of the case on its own action. Authorities suspended three police officers accused of misuse of authority and delaying the registration of the rape case by almost one month; however, the case ended in an out-of-court settlement when the victim’s family agreed to withdraw its complaint in return for compensation of one million rupees ($10,300).
Women’s rights activist Farzana Bari stated that those who committed crimes against women generally enjoyed strong connections in society and were more powerful and resourceful than the victims. In many cases the victim’s family came under pressure and opted for an out-of-court settlement. Bari suggested that to discourage settlements of such cases, the offense against women or other citizens from vulnerable segments of society should be considered an offense against the state. According to Bari, if the state were to register such cases, the individual families would not be in a position to choose an out-of-court settlement, allowing for proper punishment of the offenders.
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 in 2011, compared with 8,000 in 2010. The foundation’s data showed that, among the abuses registered, 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 its analysis attributed the reduction in reporting to a declining law and order situation in Sindh and Balochistan, making it difficult to access information.
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. Authorities usually returned abused women 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 disapproved of 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. 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 a “darul aman” or a shelter house (approximately 200 centers for women and children who were victims were 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: At times 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.
A 2004 law on honor killings and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act 2011 criminalizes acts committed against women in the name of traditional practices. Despite these laws, hundreds of women reportedly were victims of honor killings. Many cases went unreported and unpunished. The Aurat Foundation reported 2,341 honor killings between 2008 and 2011 and estimated that less than 2 percent of all honor killings were reported. The practice of “karo-kari” or “siyah kari” continued across the country. (Karo-kari, a Sindhi term, is a form of premeditated honor killing that occurs if a family, community, 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 coaccused karo to restore family honor. In many cases the karo is not killed or is able to flee.
Human rights groups criticized the federal law banning honor killings because it allows the victim or the victim’s heirs to negotiate physical or monetary restitution with the perpetrator in exchange for dropping charges. On August 1, a 22-year-old woman, Raheela Sehto was shot and killed inside a courtroom in Hyderabad, Sindh. Her brother, Javed Iqbal Shaikh, a lawyer by profession, was the one who killed her, claiming that she had “brought shame” on his family for marrying a man of whom the family disapproved. Raheela and Zulfikar Sehto had married in a Hyderabad court after the woman’s family turned down the marriage proposal.
On November 25, a tribal jirga in Shikarpur District ordered a man to give his two sisters and a niece in marriage to members of an opposing family in order to settle an honor dispute. The dispute originated in a case that occurred six months earlier when a villager claimed that his wife had an affair with another man. The man expelled his wife from the house. The jirga’s decision was intended to resolve the dispute between the two families. The chief justice of the Supreme Court took notice of this case, and police arrested nearly 20 men in connection with it.
In May it was reported that that a local jirga in Kohistan had condemned to death five girls of the Azadkhel tribe and two boys of the Salehkhel tribe for clapping and singing at a local wedding held in March. A relative of the girls later claimed that the four girls seen in the video, along with a teenage girl who was also present at the scene, were killed on May 30 in accordance with the tribal decree. The Supreme Court took suo motu (acting on its own cognizance) notice of the case and sent a fact-finding mission to the area on June 4 that reported the women were alive. When the commission met Molvi Javed, the head of the jirga, it was informed that no killings had taken place. Following this finding, the case was disposed of but the relative of the girls kept claiming the girls had been killed.
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 man’s or a woman’s nose or ears, especially in relation to honor crimes, was reported (also see section 1.c.). For example, on June 2, the Express Tribune reported that a man, Qasim, was beaten and his nose and ears cut off for marrying a woman without her family’s consent in Basti Feeta Kata, near Sadiqabad, Punjab.
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 Quran,” forcing a female family member to stay unmarried to avoid division of property. Property of women married to the Quran 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 problems, the Senate passed the Prevention of Anti-Women Practice Amendment Act in December 2011. The law criminalizes and punishes giving a female in marriage to settle a civil or criminal dispute; depriving a woman of her rights to 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 Quran, including forcing her oath on the Quran 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. As with other laws, these measures are not applicable to FATA and PATA unless the president issues a notification to this effect.
A third bill, passed in December 2011, provides for 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.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, the president signed the National Commission on the Status of Women Bill into law, which accords the commission new financial and administrative autonomy and thereby better scope to investigate violations of women’s rights.
NGOs and women’s activists stressed that while these laws were positive steps, implementation remained a serious challenge.
Sexual Harassment: In 2010 two comprehensive laws, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2010 and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, were enacted to prevent and criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace and in the public sphere. In December 2010 Musarrat Hilali was appointed the country’s first federal ombudsman for protection against harassment of women at work. By January 2012 the office had received 41 cases; 35 cases were disposed of by the authorities. Under the law all provinces were to establish provincial-level ombudsmen. In July Sindh became the first province to appoint a provincial ombudsman to redress complaints relating to sexual harassment. Despite these measures, sexual harassment remained 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 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 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 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 often were 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 frequently were ostracized or faced becoming the victims of honor crimes.
The inheritance law also clearly discriminates against women; however, the Anti-Women Practices Act, passed in December 2011, makes it illegal to deny women 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 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.