In Pakistan, the conviction rate in rape and sexual assault cases is abysmally low, under 3%, estimates the Karachi-based War Against Rape (WAR). “Unfortunately, rape and sexual assault is still a taboo subject in Pakistan,” Shehraz Ahmed, program coordinator at the non-governmental organization WAR, told to a private TV channel, “Cases of rape are underreported and conviction is even lower, under 3%, across the country.”
Women who do report the crime are forced to visit male-dominated police stations, where they are asked unnecessary questions, Ahmed added. “At police stations, they face a kind of secondary victimization and harassment by policemen.”
The low conviction rate persists despite Pakistan passing an anti-rape law in 2016, under which government officials can be punished for disclosing the identity of a victim or for attempting to hamper an investigation.
The law also calls for cases of rape and sexual assault to be decided within three months to one year. “We have the legislation, but it needs to be implemented,” said Ahmed, “Such cases should be concluded in three months, but even today they can drag on for five years, during which the victims are under a lot of pressure to drop the proceedings.”
Another urgent need for effective implementation of the law and to drive up the conviction rate is to recruit more medico-legal officers in the country. These officers are primarily tasked to conduct the medical and physical examination of survivors and prepare a report.
“We have seen over the years that when such examinations were done on time — between 24 hours to 72 hours — the suspects were convicted.”
At the moment, as per WAR’s data, there are only four medico-legal officers in Karachi alone, a city of over 14 million. “There need to be more medico-legal officers in every city, both male and female,” Ahmed said.
A few months ago, this publication reported that there has been an alarming 200% rise in cases of violence against women in Pakistan over the past three months, according to a periodical report of the Sustainable Social Development Organization (SSDO) from January-March 2020.
‘Focus beyond legal remedies’
Why is conviction rate in rape cases low?
Pakistan ranks 150 out of 153 countries on The Georgetown Institute’s Women, Peace, and Security index ─ among the five worst countries for women in the world. According to 2016 data, 26.8 percent of Pakistani women said they have experienced intimate partner violence.
According to another report of the Aurat Foundation, Pakistan is a country where almost 70% of women are victims of domestic violence, at least once in their lives. This violence is generally committed by their intimate partners – husbands. These figures, however, do not include psychological violence, which is even more common in urban communities.
One in every three women in Punjab aged between 15 and 64 years has suffered violence, according to a survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The survey funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) was the first of its kind in Pakistan in collaboration with the Bureau of Statistics and Punjab Commission on the Status of Women.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan has passed several laws to protect women across the country. But data shows that the cases are increasing with the passage of time despite the presence of a legal mechanism of protection. Experts now suggest to look into Pakistan’s social order and evaluate if it welcomes any law which heavily negatives some social values and cultural beliefs.