Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, with punishment for conviction that ranges from a minimum of 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine to the death penalty. The penalty for conviction for rape of two or more persons is death or life imprisonment. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape and defines rape as a crime committed by a man against a woman. Although rape was frequent, prosecutions were rare. The law provides for collection of DNA evidence and includes nondisclosure of a rape survivor’s name, the right to legal representation of rape survivors, relaxed reporting requirements for female survivors, and enhanced penalties for rape of survivors with mental or physical disabilities. In 2021, the Lahore High Court declared virginity tests, including the so-called two-finger test for examination of sexual assault survivors, “illegal and against the Constitution,” and without forensic value in cases of sexual violence.
The government did not effectively enforce the Women’s Protection Act, which brought the crime of rape under the jurisdiction of criminal rather than Islamic courts. The law prohibits police from arresting or holding a female survivor overnight at a police station without a civil court judge’s consent. The law requires a survivor to file complaints directly with a sessions court, which tries heinous offenses. After recording the survivor’s statement, the sessions court judge files a complaint, after which police may make arrests. NGOs reported the procedure created barriers for rape survivors who could not travel to or access the courts. NGOs continued to report rape was a severely underreported crime.
The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act provides legal protections for domestic abuse victims, including judicial protective orders and access to a network of district-level women’s shelters. Centers provided women a range of services, including assistance with the completion of first information reports regarding the crimes committed against them, first aid, medical examinations, post-trauma rehabilitation, free legal services, and a shelter home. The Punjab government funded four women’s career centers in Punjab universities, 12 crisis centers that provide legal and psychological services to women, and emergency shelters for women and children. The Punjab government established 16 women’s hostel authorities in 12 districts to assist women in finding safe, affordable, temporary lodging while looking for work. On October 3, the Board of Governments approved establishment of another 30 centers across Punjab. The provincial government also launched other economic empowerment programs, including the Punjab Small Industry Cooperation Development Bank and the Kisan Ki Beti (Farmer’s Daughter) project, which aim to improve living standards of rural women through skill development.
On October 5, the Gilgit-Baltistan government launched a “Pink Bus Service” to provide three free women-only bus services in the area between morning and afternoon hours. Lahore used a special court designed to focus exclusively on gender-based violence crimes. The Lahore Gender-Based Violence Court receives the most serious cases in the district, such as aggravated rape, and offers enhanced protections to women and girls.
In the first eight months of the year, Lahore reported 176 cases of domestic violence against women, 337 cases of rape of women, 1,782 cases of kidnapping of women, three cases of so-called honor killings of women (the killing of a relative who is perceived to have brought dishonor on the family), and 746 cases of violence against women.
The Pakistan National Judicial Policy Making Committee directed all provincial high courts to establish special gender-based violence courts to provide justice to victims of sexual and gender-based violence on a priority basis and in a gender-sensitive manner. At year’s end, special courts for gender-based violence operated countrywide.
All provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory had enacted domestic violence bills as of 2021, but observers reported implementation was slow due to lack of resources and awareness, gender and cultural biases, and weak federal and provincial coordination. There were no reliable national, provincial, or local statistics on rape due to underreporting, and no centralized law enforcement data collection system existed.
According to reports compiled by the Sustainable Social Development Organization and the Centre for Research, Development and Communication, at least 557 women were kidnapped, 381 were subjected to physical assault, 304 were raped, and 47 women killed in so-called honor killings across the country from May to August. In November, the social development organization reported 3,088 cases of rape of women and 4,503 cases of child abuse were filed with Punjab police from January 1 to October 31.
Prosecutions of reported rapes were rare, although there were reports prosecution rates increased due to police capacity-building programs and public campaigns to combat the lack of awareness regarding rape and gender-based violence. NGOs reported police sometimes accepted bribes from perpetrators, abused or threatened victims, and demanded victims drop charges, especially when suspected perpetrators were influential community leaders. Some police demanded bribes from survivors before registering rape charges, and investigations were often superficial. There were reports of traditional jirga or panchayat systems of community justice, typically used to resolve low-level disputes, or cases of rape in rural areas. The traditional system may have resulted in a survivor being forced to marry the attacker, or a family member on the survivor’s side being allowed to rape a family member of the accused/defendant’s side. Women who reported or spoke up against violence against women often faced pushback and harassment, including by police officials, who, according to civil society activists, discouraged survivors from coming forward.
According to the HRCP, 0.3 percent of offenders charged with rape were convicted between 2015 and 2021. The Punjab Information Commission reported 2,439 women were raped in Punjab Province in the first six months of the year.
On May 27, a station manager and four ticket checkers raped a woman on a Karachi-bound Multan train. They also filmed the sexual assault as intended blackmail against her reporting them to police. The incident sparked outrage on social media, which criticized the Pakistan Railways authorities for failing to place safety measures for female passengers nationwide.
The use of rape medical testing increased, but medical personnel in many areas did not have sufficient training or equipment to gather evidence and undertake investigations, which further complicated prosecutions. Most survivors of rape, particularly in rural areas, did not have access to the full range of treatment services. There were a limited number of women’s treatment centers, funded by the federal government and international donors. These centers had partnerships with local service providers to create networks that delivered a full spectrum of essential services to rape survivors.
No specific federal law prohibits domestic violence, which was widespread. Police may charge acts of domestic violence as crimes pursuant to the penal code’s general provisions against assault and bodily injury. Provincial laws also prohibit acts of domestic violence. Forms of domestic violence reportedly included beating, physical disfigurement, shaving of women’s eyebrows and hair, and – in extreme cases – homicide. While dowries were banned in 2020, dowry and other family-related disputes sometimes resulted in death or disfigurement by burning or acid.
Women who attempted to report abuse often faced serious obstacles. Police and judges were sometimes reluctant to act in domestic violence cases, viewing them as family problems. Instead of filing charges, police often responded by encouraging the parties to reconcile. Authorities routinely returned women to their abusive family members.
On September 23, the son of a journalist killed his wife of three months in Shahzad, Islamabad. After a domestic disagreement, Shahnawaz Amir allegedly bludgeoned his Canadian-Pakistani wife to death with a dumbbell and then hid the body in his bathtub.
The government continued to operate the Crisis Center for Women in Distress, which referred abused women to NGOs for assistance. Numerous 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. Officials later referred victims to dar–ul–amans – shelter houses for abused women and children – of which there were several hundred throughout the country. The dar-ul-amans also provided access to medical treatment. According to NGOs, the shelters did not offer other assistance to women, such as legal aid or counseling, and often served as halfway homes for women awaiting trial for adultery, but who in fact were survivors of rape or other abuse.
Government centers lacked sufficient space, staff, and resources. Many overcrowded dar-ul-amans did not meet international standards. Some shelters did not offer access to basic needs such as showers, laundry supplies, or feminine hygiene products. In some cases, individuals reportedly abused women at the government-run shelters, and staff severely restricted women’s movements or pressured them to return to their abusers. There were reports of women exploited in commercial sex and sex trafficking in shelters. Some shelter staff reportedly discriminated against the shelter residents, based on a belief that if a woman fled her home, it was because she was a woman of ill repute.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No national law addresses the practice of FGM/C. According to human rights groups and media reports, many Dawoodi Bohra Muslims practiced various forms of FGM/C. Some Dawoodi Bohras spoke publicly and signed online petitions against the practice. Some other isolated tribes and communities in rural Sindh and Balochistan also reportedly practiced FGM/C.
Other Forms of Gender-based Violence: Women were victims of various types of societal violence and abuse, including so-called honor killings, forced marriages and conversions, imposed isolation, and usage as chattel to settle tribal disputes.
Several laws criminalize so-called honor killings and other acts committed against women in the name of traditional practices. Despite these laws, hundreds of women reportedly were victims of so-called honor killings, and many cases went unreported and unpunished. In many cases, officials allowed the man involved in the alleged “crime of honor” to flee. Because these crimes generally occurred within families, many went unreported. Police and NGOs reported increased media coverage enabled law enforcement officers to take more action against these crimes.
In 2021, Noor Mukadam was sexually assaulted and beheaded by a male acquaintance after being tortured and held hostage for two days in Islamabad. Police arrested Zahir Jaffer, but his family used its influence to pressure local police and the victim’s family to settle out of court. After the victim’s family and friends highlighted the case on social media, police arrested and charged all accomplices. On February 22, an Islamabad trial court convicted Zahir Jaffer, sentencing him to death, and it sentenced two codefendants to 10 years in prison. As of October, the case remained on appeal in the Islamabad High Court.
In June, the Punjab Information Commission reported 90 women were victims of honor killings in Punjab Province during the first six months of the year.
In August, a study conducted by a women rights group revealed that 123 persons, including 88 women, were killed during the past six months in the name of so-called honor or karo kari in Sindh. Balochistan also had reports of many cases of so-called honor-related crimes. On February 13, three women and two men were killed in the name of so-called honor in Jaffarabad, Mastung, and Hub areas of Balochistan during a single day.
On May 20, two Pakistani sisters with Spanish residency were killed by their husbands, uncle, and brother in a so-called honor killing. The two were strangled and shot after they allegedly refused to help apply for spousal visas for their husbands, whom they were reportedly forced to marry in 2021. The men involved were arrested and charged with murder.
On February 14, the Lahore High Court acquitted Waseem, the brother of social media star Qandeel Baloch who was killed in the name of so-called honor in 2016. The acquittal followed Qandeel’s parents’ action under Section 311 of the penal code. Prior to acquittal, Waseem had served less than six years in prison. The public outrage concerning Waseem’s strangulation of his sister led to parliament passing legislation in 2016 mandating a sentence of 25 years’ imprisonment for so-called honor killings and closing a loophole allowing relatives of victims the right to forgive the convict.
According to the HRCP, more than 470 so-called honor killing-related cases were reported in 2021.
The law makes maiming or killing using a corrosive substance a crime and imposes stiff penalties against convicted perpetrators. There were reports that the practice of disfigurement – including cutting off a woman’s nose or ears or throwing acid in her face, in connection with domestic disputes or so-called honor crimes – continued and that legal repercussions were rare.
On May 9, unidentified men in Kot Addu, Punjab, broke into the home of a woman and threw acid on her and her son, allegedly because she rejected the advances of one of the attackers. The woman died 17 days later from her injuries.
Laws provide legal mechanisms to formally register and prove the legitimacy of Hindu and Sikh marriages and allow for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism or Sikhism. Some activists claimed the latter provision weakened the government’s ability to protect against forced marriage and conversion. The law criminalizes the giving of 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 marry; and compelling, arranging, or facilitating the marriage of a woman under the Quran, including forcing her to take an oath on the Quran to remain unmarried or forego claiming her share of an inheritance. These practices, however, continued in some areas.
The law provides for financial and administrative autonomy enabling the National Commission on the Status of Women to investigate abuses of women’s rights.
Sexual Harassment: Although several laws criminalize sexual harassment in the workplace and public sphere, the problem was reportedly widespread. The law requires all provinces to have provincial-level ombudsmen. All provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan had ombudsmen. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly passed its provincial law for the prevention of the harassment of women.
In 2018 Meesha Shafi and eight others accused pop singer Ali Zafar of sexual harassment. He denied the accusations and filed suit against the women. In 2020 the accusers were charged with defamation; if convicted, they would face up to three years in prison. At year’s end, Zafar’s sexual harassment trial was suspended pending the outcome of the defamation case. Women’s rights activists demanded that defamation be decriminalized, as it was used as a tool to silence survivors of sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by or on behalf of government authorities.
The government provided limited access to or limited availability of sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence were given a clinical exam and treatment; female survivors were offered emergency contraceptives. Other services provided to survivors of sexual violence varied by province.
Young girls and women often lacked information and means to access care. Adolescent girls had no access to counseling related to menstrual health. Unmarried individuals could obtain contraceptive commodities from private pharmacies; however, unmarried persons frequently faced difficulties in seeking reproductive health-care services, including access to medical contraceptives.
Spousal opposition also contributed to the problems women faced in obtaining contraception or delaying pregnancy. Women, particularly in rural areas, faced difficulty accessing education on health and reproductive rights due to social constraints, which also complicated data collection.
According to the most recent Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 186 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019, a rate attributed to inadequate maternal and newborn care. Women in rural areas had limited access to skilled birth attendants, including essential obstetric and postpartum care. The survey revealed three in 10 births were delivered at home, putting both mother and babies at risk. Moreover, there were serious delays in contraceptive procurement and limited stocks of most of the contraceptive types across the country. UNICEF’s Impact of COVID-19 and Reproductive Health, Family Planning and GBV [gender-based violence] in Pakistan reported the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 14.5 percent increase in child mortality and a 21.3 percent increase in maternal mortality in 2020.
Although fines and punishments for conviction exist, laws on child marriage had little impact because they were not well enforced. Almost 21 percent of marriages occurred before age 18 and 3 percent before age 15; this led to childbearing in 8 percent of married adolescent girls. The government had no dedicated program to address the sexual reproductive health services and contraception needs of this age group. UNICEF stated that due to poor menstrual hygiene, lack of access to sanitary products, and lack of proper sanitation facilities, many girls were absent on school days.
Discrimination: Women faced legal and economic discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, but authorities did not enforce it. Women also faced discrimination in employment, family law, property law, and the judicial system. Family law provides protection for women in cases of divorce, including requirements for maintenance, and sets clear guidelines for custody of children and their maintenance. Many women were unaware of these legal protections or were 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 so-called honor crimes.
The law entitles female children to one-half the inheritance of male children. Wives inherit one-eighth of their husbands’ estates. Women often received far less than their legal entitlement. In addition, complicated family disputes and the costs and time of lengthy court procedures reportedly discouraged women from pursuing legal challenges to inheritance discrimination. The Punjab Women’s Helpline received 1,424 complaints on problems concerning property and inheritance rights from January to August.
Media reported imams and other marriage registrars illegally meddled with nikah namas, Islamic marriage contracts that often detail divorce rights, to limit rights of women in marriage. In other instances, women signing contracts were not fully informed of their provisions.
Civil society actors reported only 7 percent of women had access to credit and financial services. Women also faced discrimination in employment.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution provides that for “all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.” It also states that “adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures,” and that it is the state’s responsibility to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian, and provincial prejudices among citizens.
Members of ethnic minority groups state these provisions had never been fully implemented. Observers cited forced religious conversion and enforcement of blasphemy laws as particular concerns for religious minorities. The constitution enshrines every citizen’s “right to profess, practice and propagate his religion,” but contains a stipulation that this right is not absolute, but “subject to law, public order, and morality.”
The 2017 Hindu Marriage Law gives legal validity to Hindu marriages, including registration and official documentation, and outlines conditions for separation and divorce, including provisions for the financial security of wives and children.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Rehabilitation of Minorities (Victims of Terrorism) Endowment Fund Act of 2020 established a fund to help minorities and their families who are victims of terrorism by providing compensation, financial support, treatment, welfare, and rehabilitation.
Some Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups claimed authorities detained their members based on political affiliation or belief. Nationalist parties in Sindh further alleged law enforcement and security agencies kidnapped and killed Sindhi political activists. Pashtuns accused security forces of committing extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and other human rights abuses targeting Pashtuns.
The PTM and secular Pashtun political leaders claimed Pashtuns were targeted and killed by both antistate militants and security forces because of their political affiliation or beliefs, antimilitancy stance, or criticism of the government. PTM leaders and activists claim they had been threatened, illegally detained, imprisoned without trial, banned from domestic and international travel, and censored. Anti-Taliban Pashtun activists and political leaders were targeted and killed, allegedly by militants, in Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pashtuns from the former FATA complained they were frequently profiled as militants, based on their tribe, dress, appearance, or ancestral district of origin. Pashtun activists claimed they were subject to military censorship and sedition laws were used to stifle PTM and other Pashtun critics of the government.
Sectarian militants continued to target members of the Hazara ethnic minority, who are largely Shia Muslim, in Quetta, Balochistan. Hazaras also continued to face discrimination and threats of violence. According to media and other reports, security concerns prevented Hazaras from moving freely outside of Quetta’s two Hazara-populated enclaves. Community members complained increased security measures had turned their neighborhoods into ghettos, resulting in economic exploitation. Consumer goods in those enclaves were available only at inflated prices, and Hazaras reported an inability to find employment or pursue higher education. Hazara observers reported increased surveillance by authorities due to the arrival of Hazaras from Afghanistan following the August 2021 Taliban takeover of Kabul.
Community members also alleged government agencies discriminated against Hazaras in issuing identification cards and passports. Authorities provided enhanced security for Shia religious processions but confined public observances to the Hazara enclaves.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is generally derived by birth in the country, although children born abroad after 2000 may derive their citizenship if either the mother or father is a citizen. Children of refugees and stateless persons do not derive citizenship by birth in country.
Education: The constitution mandates compulsory education, provided free of charge by the government, to all children between ages five and 16. Despite this provision, government schools often charged parents for books, uniforms, and other materials.
The most significant barrier to girls’ education was lack of access. Public schools, particularly beyond the primary grades, were not available in many rural areas, and those that existed were often too far for a girl to travel unaccompanied under prevailing social norms. Despite cultural beliefs that boys and girls should be educated separately after primary school, the government often failed to take measures to provide separate restroom facilities or separate classrooms, and there were more government schools for boys than for girls. The attendance rates for girls in primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools were lower than for boys. Additionally, certain tribal and cultural beliefs often prevented girls from attending schools.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. The NGO Sahil said a total of 2,211 cases of child abuse were reported across the country from January to June. Employers, who in some cases were relatives, abused young girls and boys working as domestic servants by beating them and forcing them to work long hours.
Many children who worked as domestic servants were human trafficking victims. In some circumstances, trafficked children were forced to beg to gain money for their employers.
Local authorities subjected children to harmful traditional practices such as treating girls as chattel to settle disputes and debts.
The law defines statutory rape as sexual intercourse with a girl or boy younger than age 16.
The Sindh Child Protection Authority has the power to take punitive action against child abusers. Observers stated, however, the authority and provincial government were unable to implement child protection legal provisions law.
In 2021, the Peshawar High Court inaugurated child protection courts in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Districts of Kohat, Bannu, Swat, and Dera Ismail Khan, bringing the number of child protection courts active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to eight. Child protection courts were already present in Peshawar, Abbottabad, and Mardan Districts and in Mohmand Tribal District. There were 12 child protection units operational in Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi, Swat, Bannu, Buner, Abbottabad, Kohat, Lower Dir, Battagram, and Chitral Districts.
On May 31, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare (Amendment) Act, 2022, which stipulates that convicted child abusers be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. According to the law, those convicted of child pornography or child trafficking shall be fined and face a minimum of 14 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Anyone convicted and whose name is entered into the Register of Sexual Offenders shall not be employed in any organization relating to or dealing with children in the province. The law also stipulates those cases of child sexual abuse be heard in child protection courts and that cases be completed within 30 days. The person named in the Register of Sexual Offenders is prohibited from using public transportation.
On August 16, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home and Tribal Affairs Department reported to the Provincial Assembly that, despite increased legislation and awareness, child sexual assault and abuse in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had risen during the previous three years, with Peshawar alone reporting 120 cases. According to the department, Peshawar recorded 44 cases of child assault and sexual abuse between 2019 and 2021. The report also said 13 children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were killed after being sexually assaulted.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Despite legal prohibitions, child marriages occurred. Federal law sets the legal age of marriage at 18 for men and 16 for girls, and a law in Sindh sets 18 as the legal age of marriage for both boys and girls. According to UNICEF, 21 percent of girls were married by age 18. Nearly 19 million were child brides; one in six young women were married in childhood. An individual convicted of child marriage may be imprisoned for no less than five years and no more than 10 years and may also be fined. At times, men evaded Sindh’s child marriage law by traveling to a different province for marriage.
The Council of Islamic Ideology declared child marriage laws to be un-Islamic, noting they were “unfair and there cannot be any legal age for marriage.” The council stated Islam does not prohibit underage marriage since it allows the consummation of marriage after both partners reach puberty. Decisions of the council are nonbinding.
In rural areas poor parents sometimes sold their daughters into marriage, in some cases to settle debts or disputes. Although forced marriage is a criminal offense, in many filed cases, prosecution remained limited.
A children’s rights NGO stated authorities received reports of 26 cases of child marriage from January to June.
On July 13, a court in Rawalpindi ruled against the parents of a 13-year-old Christian girl and allowed her to remain with her 40-year-old Muslim husband. The family alleged she was abducted from a market on April 30, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to Imran Shahzad, who already had a wife and three children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Various local laws exist to protect children from child pornography, sexual abuse, seduction, and cruelty, but federal laws do not prohibit using children for commercial sexual purposes or pornographic performances, although child pornography is illegal under obscenity laws. Legal observers reported that authorities did not regularly enforce child protection laws. From January through June, according to the NGO Sahil, there were 2,211 reported cases of child abuse, including 1,207 cases (55 percent) involving girls and 1,004 (45 percent) involving boys. The abuses included child sexual abuse, abduction, missing children, and child marriages.
On July 27, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police arrested a person suspected of sexually assaulting and killing multiple girls in Peshawar. Police stated the suspect confessed during the investigation. According to the Central Police Office, 360 cases of child sexual abuse were recorded in 2021 across the province.
Infanticide, Including Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Parents occasionally abandoned unwanted children, most of whom were girls. By law, anyone convicted of abandoning an infant may be imprisoned for seven years, while anyone convicted of secretly burying a deceased child may be imprisoned for two years. Conviction of murder is punishable by life imprisonment, but authorities rarely prosecuted infanticide.
Displaced Children: Civil society reported it was difficult for children displaced by military operations to access education or psychological support upon their return to former conflict areas. Nonetheless, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government reconstructed some of the 1,800 schools in the former FATA districts, where large numbers of internally displaced persons had returned. The government prioritized rehabilitating schools and enrolling children in these former conflict areas, and the overall number of out-of-school children decreased, according to international organizations.
Most of the historic Jewish community has emigrated. Antisemitic sentiments were widespread in the vernacular press. Hate speech used by some politicians and broadcast in some print media and through social media used derogatory terms such as “Jewish agent” to attack individuals and groups or referred to “Zionist conspiracies.”
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is a criminal offense. The penalty for conviction of same-sex conduct is a fine, two years to life imprisonment, or both. The law also punishes convicted same-sex married couples by up to 10 years in prison. Although not enforced since the 1985 lifting of martial law, the Hudood Ordinance of 1979 criminalizes sexual intercourse outside of marriage in accordance with sharia, with penalties of whipping or, potentially, death. There were disputes as to whether the Hudood Ordinance notionally applies to both opposite-sex and same-sex conduct, but there were no known cases of the government applying the ordinance to same-sex conduct, and there were no known cases of executions for homosexuality. LGBTQI+ persons rarely revealed their sexual orientation or gender identity in the public sphere. There were communities of openly transgender persons, but they were marginalized and frequently targets of violence and harassment.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Violence, discrimination, and stigma continued against LGBTQI+ persons. The crimes often went unreported, and police generally took little action when they did receive reports.
In 2019, the inspector general of police announced the government would provide 0.5 percent of the office jobs in the Sindh police force to members of the transgender community. Transgender activists stated police had not implemented this plan. In 2020, Rawalpindi police launched a pilot project to protect transgender individuals. The project, called the Tahafuz Center, included the first transgender victim-support officer, who was also a member of the transgender community. In February, the Islamabad police established the Tahafuz Police Khidmat Markaz and Reporting Center to handle cases perpetuated against transgender individuals. The Islamabad Transgender Protection Unit reported 44 complaints were filed, with more than half the complaints involving violence or harassment against transgender persons.
A local NGO reported that prison officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa held transgender prisoners separately and that the provincial government formed a jail oversight committee to improve the prison situation. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police stations had a dedicated intake desk for transgender persons and added transgender rights education to police training courses. Local NGOs working in the Islamabad Capital Territory and Punjab conducted transgender sensitization training for police officers. In July, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a law addressing a 0.5 percent hiring quota for transgender persons at public institutions in Sindh. In August, the first school for transgender persons from primary to higher secondary education was established in Punjab’s Dera Ghazi Khan District with the collaboration of Japan.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa saw an increase in violence against transgender persons. Transgender activists complained police did not act against targeted attacks on the community and remained indifferent despite several protests. On March 12, five transgender persons suffered critical injuries when a man opened fired at them in the Upper Chania area of Mansehra District. The transgender union later staged a protest and demanded authorities to control the increasing violence in Mansehra District. On March 17, men riding motorcycles opened fire on the vehicle of several transgender persons near the city museum in Mardan, killing one and injuring another.
On March 26, two transgender persons were killed in two separate shooting incidents in Peshawar and Mardan Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It was the fourth incident of killing a transgender person in just one week in Peshawar.
Discrimination: According to LGBTQI+ NGOs and activists, society generally shunned transgender women, eunuchs, and intersex persons, who often lived together in slum communities and survived by begging and dancing at carnivals and weddings. Some were also engaged in commercial sex. Local authorities often denied transgender individuals their share of inherited property and admission to schools and hospitals. Property owners frequently refused to rent or sell property to transgender persons. The law also provides for basic rights, prohibits harassment of transgender persons, and outlaws discrimination against them in employment, housing, education, health care, and other services. No such law, however, protects the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: A Supreme Court ruling allows transgender individuals to obtain national identification cards listing a “third gender.” Because national identity cards also serve as voter registration, the ruling enabled transgender individuals to participate in elections, both as candidates and voters. The 2018 Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act, challenged during the year in Federal Shariat Court, ensures the rights of transgender or third-gender persons, sometimes referred to as Hijra or Khawaja Sira, are protected. The law accords the right of transgender individuals to be recognized according to their “self-perceived gender identity,” but the government only allows the registration of gender changes to an “X” third gender and not to a different binary male or female gender.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There are no laws addressing or forbidding so-called conversion therapy. Societal, family, religious, and community discrimination reportedly means most LGBTQI+ individuals do not self-identify. Psychiatric services were reportedly limited and some families of LGBTQI+ persons consulted traditional or religious healers for exorcisms. Occasionally these may involve forceful beatings, physical violence, or forceful detention in homes as coercive punishment or an attempt to force a change to the person’s sexual identity or expression.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: Gatherings or events such as the women’s march sometimes faced hardships in obtaining assembly permits because of alleged support to sexual minorities or the alleged support of LGBTQI+ activists. Public venues were reportedly more reluctant to host transgender events as religiously based anti-LGBTQI+ protests increased in the latter half of the year. The government continued to review movies, books, magazines, and newspapers, which were subject to censorship for objectionable sexual content. On November 15, the government banned the showing of the film Joyland for “highly objectionable content,” but it lifted the ban two days later after public protest. The film explored the relationship between a married man who works for and is in love with a transgender dancer.
Persons with Disabilities
The law provides for equal rights for persons with disabilities, and provincial special education and social welfare offices are responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities; nonetheless, authorities did not always implement its provisions. Each province has a department or office legally tasked with addressing the educational needs of persons with disabilities. According to civil society organizations, despite these provisions, most children with disabilities did not attend school.
Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and at work. The National Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled provided job placement and loan facilities as well as subsistence funding. Access to polling stations was problematic for persons with disabilities because of severe difficulties in obtaining transportation. The law allows for absentee voting for persons with disabilities. To register for an absentee ballot, however, persons with disabilities were required to obtain an identification card with a special physical disability symbol. According to disability rights activists, the multistep process for obtaining the special identification symbol was cumbersome.
Those with disabilities commonly encountered daily obstacles such as barriers to community mobility, reduced access to education and health-care services, and higher risk of suffering from depression. These persons faced additional problems related to employment and economic opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions on acquiring goods and services and limitations on the use of transportation were additional challenges due to COVID-19.
In 2021, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of two convicted persons with mental disabilities, Imdad Ali and Kanizan Bibi. The judgment placed a ban at the federal level on applying the death penalty to those with mental disabilities.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Societal violence due to religious intolerance remained a serious problem. There were occasional reports of mob violence against religious minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus. Shia Muslim activists reported continuing instances of targeted killings and enforced disappearances in scattered parts of the country.
On February 7, a 31-year-old Ahmadi Muslim doctor was killed, and three members of his family injured, in an attack on their home in Punjab’s Nankana Sahib District. A spokesperson from the Ahmadi Muslim community reported the family was attacked after they attended Friday prayers.
On March 5, a 35-year-old doctor was killed and another wounded when unidentified assailants attacked a medical clinic owned by an Ahmadi Muslim doctor in the Scheme Chowk area of Peshawar. Dr. Muhammad Shahid Ahmad was working at a clinic owned by a member of the minority Ahmadi Muslim community in Peshawar’s Bazid Khel village. The Ahmadi Muslim community stated the attacks on members of the minority community and places owned by them were on the rise and that during the prior two years at least five members of the community were targeted and killed in Peshawar.
On May 17, Abdus Salam, a member of the Ahmadi Muslim community, was stabbed to death in what activists described as a religiously motivated attack.
Women’s rights groups faced threats of violence from religious groups. The annual Aurat (Women’s) March events conducted throughout the country continued to receive threats from extremist groups, including a right-wing newspaper Ummat, which considered the march to be “vulgar and anti-Islamic.” The march was held amid strict government security, but many NGOs did not participate in the event after receiving direct threats. In the aftermath of the march, several groups accused the organizers of blasphemy and tried to book legal cases against them. In 2021, Peshawar police booked the organizers and participants of the women’s march in Islamabad on the charge of committing blasphemy, but the organizers and participants were not prosecuted.
A concentrated HIV epidemic persisted among drug-injecting users, who had an infection rate of 21 percent, while the estimated prevalence in the general population was less than 0.1 percent. Stigma and discrimination by the general population and by health-care providers against persons with HIV remained a significant barrier to treatment access. An estimated 14 percent of persons with HIV knew their status, and approximately one-tenth of them were on antiretroviral treatment, according to the 2018 Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS report. Transgender advocacy organizations and activists reported HIV was particularly prevalent in their community, with little medical help available.
In some cases police arrested individuals after acts of vigilantism related to blasphemy or religious discrimination. On August 21, Hyderabad police prevented an enraged crowd from lynching a Hindu sanitation worker following allegations he threw burned pages of the Quran from a six-story apartment building. A large contingent of police and paramilitary Rangers placed him in protective custody. Police issued warrants for 200 persons and arrested 42 for participating in the attack. On February 12, police were unable to stop a mob from beating to death and hanging an alleged mentally ill man accused of blasphemy in Khanewal, Punjab. Police later arrested nearly 80 persons in connection with the killing.