Pakistan's domestic violence bill: Who is opposing it and why?
On June 21, Pakistan’s Senate passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2021. Only the President’s signature was required to turn it into law.
Several religious groups, including the Pakistan Ulema Council, called for the bill to be sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology for review. #We_reject_domestic_violence_bill_2021 started trending on social media.
What is new in the Domestic violence bill?
This new piece of legislation would decree that domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse only—a departure from the earlier definition that mostly covered beatings.
The bill says now that domestic violence shall mean “all acts of
physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse committed by a
respondent against women, children, vulnerable persons, or any other person
with whom the respondent is or has been in a domestic relationship that causes
fear, physical or psychological harm to the aggrieved person.”
And so, if passed, the law would be much broader in scope.
The bill says that these actions would be defined as domestic violence:
- Threats of divorce or second marriage
- Invasion of privacy
- Threats to cause physical pain
- Character assassination
- Willful or negligent abandonment
- Forcing or compelling a wife to cohabit with anybody other than the husband (SAMAA Digital note: such as in-laws)
By expanding the type of violence, the new domestic violence bill thus plugs loopholes in the Pakistan Penal Code by making punishable actions not covered in the older law.
The bill recommends punishment of six months to three years in prison and up to Rs100,000 in a fine for domestic violence.
New Protection Officers
The bill also says that a Protection Committee would be established under the Human Rights ministry. The committee would appoint Protection Officers who would help people report domestic abuse and collect data.
The bill says that courts shall fix hearing for appeals within seven days of receiving one. Cases will be decided within 90 days.
Right to live in a shared house
If a woman files a domestic violence complaint, the new bill
protects her from being thrown out of her home.
She as a complainant will have the right to stay in the shared house irrespective of whether she owns it or not. The person who makes the complaint can even choose to stay in a safe home or shelter, which will be arranged by the Protection Officers.
The court hearing the case may ask the person accused of domestic violence to:
- Not have any communication with the person who made the complaint (complainant)
- Stay away from the complainant
- Wear a GPS tracker
- Move out of the house
Why has this new bill become controversial?
On July 5, 2021, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan wrote a letter to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser seeking a review of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2021 by the Council of Islamic Ideology, Dawn.com reported.
People started reacting to this news on both ends of the spectrum,
with some expressing alarm that a council of 12 men would be allowed to decide
The rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed is one of the most vocal opponents of the bill. He opposed it when it was presented before the upper house of Parliament or the Senate.
The government tried to have it approved quietly during the budget session, he told SAMAA Digital.
The basic point is that the spectrum of the law is “very broad and open-ended,” he said. “It’s open for interpretation; they say harassment but did not mention what harassment is.”
The other problem with this proposed law is that it treats everyone in the family with the yardstick, he said. “In our culture and religion, the stature of parents is above the rest and they can’t be treated like other members of the family.”
The senator accepted that domestic violence is a real problem and the government’s intention behind the proposed law was good, but he felt this was not the case with its approach.
When you involve an outsider, a protection officer, in your household matters, you push it to a point of no return, he said. The provision of making the alleged perpetrator wear a GPS tracker will make things worse, he added.
“Don’t try to find American solutions for Pakistani problems,” he said. The senator suggested that the protection officers might approach the elders of the family if they receive a complaint, instead of taking it to court directly.