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 death or life imprisonment, but sentences, when convictions occurred, were often less severe. Although rape was frequent, prosecutions were rare. According to data presented by the Ministry of Interior to the senate in 2014, there had been no rape convictions in the country during previous years. Spousal rape is not a crime. During the year Parliament passed a new antirape law that provides for collection of DNA evidence and includes nondisclosure of a rape victim’s name, the right to legal representation of rape victims, and enhanced penalties for rape of victims with mental or physical disabilities.
As in previous years, the government did not effectively enforce the 2006 Women’s Protection Act. The act brought the crime of rape under the jurisdiction of criminal rather than Islamic courts. By law police are not allowed to arrest or hold a female victim overnight at a police station without a civil court judge’s consent. The law requires a victim to complain directly to a sessions court, which is considered a trial court for heinous offenses. After recording the victim’s statement, the sessions court judge officially lodges a complaint, after which police may then make arrests. NGOs reported the procedure created barriers for rape victims who could not afford to travel to or access the courts. Rape was a severely underreported crime.
The provincial government of Punjab passed the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (2016) in February to provide greater legal protections for domestic abuse victims, including judicial protective orders and access to a new network of district-level women’s shelters, the first of which was scheduled to open in Multan.
There were no reliable national, provincial, or local statistics on rape due to underreporting and a lack of any centralized law enforcement data collection system.
According to the Aurat Foundation and others, prosecutions of reported rapes were rare. Police and NGOs reported individuals involved in other types of disputes sometimes filed false rape charges, reducing the ability of police to identify legitimate cases and proceed with prosecution. NGOs reported police were at times implicated in rape cases. NGOs also alleged police sometimes abused or threatened victims, demanding they drop charges, especially when police received bribes from suspected perpetrators or the perpetrators were influential community leaders. Some police demanded bribes from victims before registering rape charges, and investigations were sometimes superficial. The use of postrape medical testing increased, but medical personnel in many areas did not have sufficient training or equipment, which further complicated prosecutions. Accusations of rape were often resolved using extrajudicial measures, with the victim often forced to marry her attacker.
No specific federal law prohibits domestic violence, which was widespread. 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 other family-related disputes sometimes resulted in death or disfigurement by burning or acid.
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 routinely returned abused women to their abusive family members.
To address societal norms that disapprove of victims who report 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 were also able to use these police stations. These women’s police stations, however, struggled with understaffing and limited equipment. Training female police and changing the cultural assumptions of male police also remained challenges. Due to restrictions on women’s mobility and social pressures related to women’s appearance in public, utilization of women’s police centers was limited, but NGOs and officials reported that use was growing and more centers were needed. Many women remained unaware of the centers.
The government continued to operate the Crisis Center for Women in Distress, which referred abused women to NGOs for assistance. Twenty-six government-funded Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Centers for Women across the country provided legal aid, medical treatment, and psychosocial counseling. These centers served women who were victims of exploitation and violence. Victims later were referred to “Dar-ul-Amans,” or shelter houses, and funds from provincial Women Development Departments had established approximately 200 such homes for abused women and children. These provided shelter and access to medical treatment. According to NGOs the shelters did not offer other assistance to women, such as legal aid or counseling, and primarily served as halfway homes for women awaiting trial for adultery, even though they were the victims of rape and domestic abuse.
Government centers lacked sufficient space, staff, and resources. Conditions in the Dar-ul-Amans did not meet international standards. They were severely overcrowded with, in some cases, more than 35 women sharing one toilet. Few shelters offered access to basic needs such as showers, laundry supplies, or feminine hygiene products. Some shelters were given a daily food allowance of nine rupees ($0.09) to feed nearly 100 women.
There were some reports of women being trafficked and prostituted out of shelters. Shelter staff reportedly sometimes discriminated against women in shelters; they assumed that if women fled their homes, it was because they were women of ill repute. In some cases women were reportedly abused at the government-run shelters, found their movements severely restricted, or were pressured to return to their abusers.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, between 70 and 90 percent of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims practiced various forms of FGM/C, often in private homes and without medical supervision. A population of approximately 40,000 Dawoodi Bohra Muslims lived in Karachi, with smaller pockets in Lahore, Islamabad, and other cities. Some Dawoodi Bohras spoke publicly and signed online petitions against the practice. Some isolated tribes and communities in rural Sindh and Balochistan also practiced FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: At times women were victims of various types of societal violence and abuse, including so-called honor killings, forced marriages, imposed isolation, and being used as chattel to settle tribal disputes. There were cases in which husbands and male family members treated women as chattel.
A 2004 law on honor killings and the 2011 Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act already criminalize 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 practice of “karo-kari” or “siyah kari”--a premeditated honor killing that occurs if a family, community, tribal court, or jirga determines that adultery or some other “crime of honor” occurred--continued across the country. Karo-kari derives from “black male” (karo) and “black female” (kari), metaphoric terms for someone who has dishonored the family or is an adulterer or adulteress. In many cases the male involved in the alleged “crime of honor” is not killed but allowed to flee. In October the government passed the antihonor killing law, closing the loophole that allowed perpetrators in “honor killings” to go free so as long as the victim’s family pardoned the perpetrator.
Police in Sindh established karo-kari cells with a 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. Police and NGOs reported that increased media coverage enabled law enforcement officials to take some action against a limited number of perpetrators. In July social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother at their family home in southern Punjab. The brother said his sister had shamed the family with her “liberal” lifestyle and for posing in photographs with a famous mullah. The government charged Baloch’s brother and accomplices with her murder and invoked Section 311 of the penal code, which made the state a party against the brother. This effectively barred the family from “forgiving” the brother and setting him free, a common outcome in these types of murders.
The practice of cutting off a woman’s nose or ears, especially in connection with honor crimes, was reported, but legal repercussions were rare.
Although prohibited by law, the practice of buying and selling brides also continued in rural areas. Many tribes, communities, or families practiced 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. Families expected these women to stay in the home and not contact anyone outside their families.
In February the Sindh Assembly approved the Hindu Marriage Act, which creates a specific legal mechanism to register Hindu marriages and to prove the legitimacy of marriages under the law. Observers viewed these new bills as the step forward in protecting Hindu minorities, particularly Hindu women who are disproportionately targeted for abductions and forced conversions. One controversial provision of the Sindh law provides that a marriage between Hindus is to be dissolved if either party converts to a different religion; some members of Hindu communities worried this provision could be used to break up marriages by forcing women to convert to Islam, which would then nullify the marriage and permit the women to marry Muslim men.
The 2011 Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Amendment Act criminalizes and punishes giving a woman 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 to take an oath on the Quran to remain unmarried or not to claim her share of an inheritance.
The 2010 Acid Control and Acid Crime Practice Bill makes maiming or killing via corrosive substance a crime and imposes stiff penalties against perpetrators. As with other laws, these measures are not applicable in FATA and PATA unless the president issues a notification to that effect. Nevertheless, there were numerous acid attacks on women across the country, with few perpetrators bought to justice. In July media reported that a spurned suitor threw acid at the family who rejected his marriage proposal, injuring six individuals.
The 2012 National Commission on the Status of Women Bill provides for the commission’s financial and administrative autonomy to investigate violations of women’s rights. According to women’s rights activists, however, the commission lacked resources and remained powerless. The position of the commission’s chairperson remained vacant for most of the year.
Sexual Harassment: Although the 2010 Criminal Law Amendment Act and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace and public sphere, the problem was widespread. The law requires all provinces to establish provincial-level ombudsmen. Sindh was the first province to do so, in 2012. Punjab Province and administrative district Gilgit-Baltistan also established ombudsmen. Neither Balochistan nor KP had an ombudsman. Press reports indicated harassment was especially high among domestic workers and nurses. According to press reports, some women were harassed via social media. In August police charged a man in Nowshera, KP, with online harassment under the recently passed cybercrimes legislation.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, but they 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. According to a survey by the Women’s Empowerment Group released in 2013, only 25 percent of adolescents were aware of their sexual and reproductive rights. Spousal opposition also contributed to the challenges women faced in obtaining contraception or delaying pregnancy. According to UN Population Division estimates in 2016, 29 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception. 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.
According to the National Institute of Population Studies’ 2012-13 Demographic and Health Survey, 27 percent of women received no prenatal care; however, the report showed a substantial improvement in the proportion of mothers receiving antenatal care over the prior 13 years, increasing from 43 percent in 2001 to 73 percent in 2013. The survey also revealed that skilled health-care providers delivered 52 percent of births and that 48 percent of births took place in a medical facility.
According to the most recent UN research, the maternal mortality ratio was 178 deaths per 100,000 live births, a rate attributed to lack of health information and services. Few women in rural areas had access to skilled attendants during childbirth, including essential obstetric and postpartum care. According to UNICEF, deteriorating security caused displacement and affected access to medical services, especially in KP and FATA.
Discrimination: Women faced legal and economic discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in general, but authorities did not enforce it. Also, women faced discrimination in family law, property law, and the judicial system. Family law formulates protection for women in cases of divorce, including requirements for maintenance, and sets clear guidelines for custody of minor children and their maintenance. 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 society frequently ostracized women who did so, or they risked becoming victims of honor crimes.
The 2011 Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act makes it illegal to deny women inheritance of property by deceitful means. The law entitles female children to one-half the inheritance of male children. Wives inherit one-eighth of their husband’s estate. 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.