Pivotal Guilty Verdict

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Spousal violence against women in Pakistan is a critical issue, leading to severe mental, physical, emotional, and economic health problems. The WHO estimates that one in three women globally has experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV). In Pakistan, the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2017-2018 reports that nearly 34% of ever-married women aged 15-49 have faced IPV. The recent conviction in Sindh for marital rape marks progress, yet it underscores the need for ongoing legal and gender sensitization training and concerted efforts by the criminal justice system (CJS) to prevent IPV.

It’s noteworthy that Pakistan has not seen a conviction for marital rape under Section 375 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). On January 15, 2024, a convict was sentenced under Section 377 (unnatural offences) of the PPC to three years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs30,000. Section 377, dating back to 1861, criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature,” reflecting the hesitance of CJS actors to challenge patriarchal norms by acknowledging marital rape under Section 375.

The journey to criminalize marital rape in Pakistan’s legal system has been long, with significant efforts from women’s rights activists. The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance 1979 removed ‘rape’ from the PPC, defining Zina bil-jabr as non-marital sexual intercourse. The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006 reintroduced ‘rape’ into the PPC through Sections 375 and 376, with the definition of rape including marital rape by omitting the phrase “he or she is not validly married.” This contrasts with India’s IPC, which does not consider sexual intercourse by a man with his wife as rape unless she is under fifteen.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences Relating to Rape) Act 2016 filled gaps in the law, and the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2021, following the Lahore-motorway rape case, redefined ‘rape’ in Section 375 of the PPC with gender-neutral language, covering all aspects of rape, including marital rape. However, the recent judgment did not apply Sections 375 or 376, indicating a reluctance to evolve the law regarding marital rape.

The UK’s RvR case in 1991 and its review by the European Court of Human Rights marked the evolution of law, abolishing marital rape exemption under common law. Pakistan’s laws must similarly evolve through high court and Supreme Court jurisprudence. The Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has advocated for women police stations and training for legal officials to improve case reporting.

This conviction is a step towards eliminating violence against women, signaling hope and progress, but it also highlights the need for continued efforts to apply the law effectively and support victims. The journey continues, and we must strive towards the light of change. This conviction is indeed a step forward.

Originally published in The News written by Rida Tahir on April 29, 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.