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EDITORIAL: A district and sessions court in Karachi has shown how the law designed to provide justice to rape victims can be effectively enforced. After pursuing the case for five long years, a few days ago father of the victim submitted an affidavit before the court, stating that he and his daughter had no objection if the accused was acquitted. However, the Additional District and Sessions Judge (Central) Zabiha Khattak ruled that an out-of-court settlement between the parties in a rape case has no legal value since the offense is non-compoundable.

And finding the accused guilty of sexually assaulting a 24-year-old school teacher the honorable judge handed him 10-year jail sentence. During the case proceedings it also came light how easily offenders can maneuver evidence in their favour either on the basis of personal influence or contacts. In the medico-legal certificate of the victim a woman medico-legal officer at a major hospital went out of her way to write that “as per statement of the girl, she left her house with her own free will and joined this man.

” In other words, it was a case of consensual sexual relationship rather than rape. Evidently, struck by incredulity of that statement the judge could only remark “God knows better that why she mentioned the same sentence in the ML certificate in column of ‘Mark of violence.’”

Unfortunately, anti-women bias and misogynic attitudes are rampant in this male-dominated society. Rape is regarded as something ‘that happens’. And victim blaming, as in the present instance, is quite common. Yet countless women have been killed in the name of family honour and the perpetrators walked free, pardoned by a close relative using the Qisas and Diyat law. To prevent its misuse, in 2005, a law was passed making the so-called honour killings to be treated like any other murder. In 2016, Parliament amended it to close some of the loopholes, rendering it mandatory for anyone convicted of the crime to face life sentence.

But prejudice against women often times stands in the way of justice as seen in the case of social media star Qandeel Baloch, who was strangled to death by her brother in the name of family honour. Last March, he was acquitted as a judge ruled that it was not an honour killing, hence, in line with Pakistan’s other laws their mother can be allowed to forgive him. Parliament had also amended the law related to rape offences, revisiting it in 2021 to ensure expeditious redress of rape and sexual abuse crimes in respect of women and children through efficacious procedures and speedy trials. Expeditious redress is still not on the horizon. It took the legal system five years to pronounce judgment in the present case. It may still go on for several more years in the likely event the offender appeals against it in higher courts.

Needless to say, the legal system must ensure the rights and obligations of individuals are duly implemented, regardless of their social status. The above mentioned laws set forth how the people are to behave in society, it is for the courts to conduct judicial proceedings in a way that is efficient and is seen to be free of anti-women bias.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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