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Victim-friendly legal mechanisms required to stop rape

Strict yet victim-friendly legal mechanisms are required to minimize sexual violence against women and children

by Amir Murtaza
September 18, 2013

Editor's note: Trigger warning - rape, paedophilia.

The brutal rape of five-year-old girl in Lahore, last week, has literally shocked the country, from the highest office to the ordinary citizen.

The tragic incident has sparked a nationwide debate and outcry against the lack of safety mechanism for children and women in the country.

Certainly women and child molestation cases are not exceptional in this part of the world; however, the coverage of recent rape case in Lahore on electronic media and social networking websites have forced the concerned police officials to take immediate action.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry have also taken the notice of the heinous crime and ordered the provincial police officials to submit the case report.

According to reports, the five-year-old girl was found unconscious, and in critical condition, near a crowded hospital in Lahore. Later, the hospital doctor examined and confirmed that she has been raped.

The Punjab provincial law minister, while talking to the reporters stated that, “Those who have done this are not humans but beasts and will be arrested and prosecuted under the law and given exemplary punishments.”

One can sincerely hope that police will arrest the culprit of this heinous crime, as soon as possible. And, the court of law award severe punishment to them that could serve as an example to minimize the incidence of sexual violence against children and women.

Violence against children and women is quite common in male dominated South Asian societies, including the Pakistani society. The research reports of child focused NGOs suggest that violence against children have been increased quite significantly though a large number of cases go unreported.

It is also a fact that majority of violence cases against children have not been reported by the parents or other family members, due to various reasons, including low rate of convictions against the accused.

In the year 2002: Mukhtaran Mai, was gang raped allegedly on the orders of a village council in the southern Punjab village of Meerwala in Pakistan. The incident also shocked the country. People from all walks, notably media and civil society organizations, had supported Mukhtaran Mai in her effort to get justice. However, finding justice for rape victims can be a difficult task in the country. It is really unfortunate that all the accused in Mukhtaran Mai case were acquitted, due to insufficient evidence.

Rape is severely stigmatized in the Pakistani society and even it is extremely hard for the victim or her family to report in police stations and in the court of law. In many such cases, families try to cover the matter under the carpet to avoid further miseries of the victim.

An unfriendly policing structure, cumbersome legal system and secondary status of women in the society have made women and girls, even as young as five-year-old, vulnerable to all sort of physical and sexual violence. Therefore, the perpetrators of such heinous crime have no fear of punishment and the incidence of rape and gang rape are on the rise.

The recent Lahore case has brought the issue of sexual violence on national agenda. Media, civil society organizations, government ministers, police officials and honorable judiciary are in consensus to immediately arrest and give exemplary punishment to the perpetrator/s.

It is absolutely high time to initiate a national debate on the issue and build strict yet victim-friendly legal mechanisms to minimize sexual violence against women and children in the country.

NGOs, CBOs and other social welfare organizations should also design different risk reduction programs for women and children. Furthermore, strategize rape prevention programs for men and involve them in campaigns to diminish the prevailing gender inequalities and gender based violence in the society.

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Amir Murtaza is a senior researcher, analyst and writer on social development issues, especially pertaining to women, youth and children.

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