Motorway gang-rape: Is death penalty the solution to crimes against women?

Prominent analysts advise caution, argue that there needs to be a healthy debate around the legal system in Pakistan which is flawed and responsible for many injustices.

what can protect women

Two men robbed and brutally raped a woman, mother of three, on the Lahore-Sialkot Motorway earlier this week. The Punjab government is making all efforts to apprehend the rapists and service the woman with justice as soon as possible, say government officials.

However,  there are two growing demands on social media: a) more laws to protect women in Pakistan and public hanging of the rapists b) if the death penalty is not a solution to the problem, some structural reforms should be undertaken to lower crimes like rape. It is, therefore, important to determine how Pakistan will act to protect its women.

Violence against women in Pakistan

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 first of its kind in Pakistan in collaboration with the Bureau of Statistics and Punjab Commission on the Status of Women.

Read more: Rise of trafficking and domestic violence against women: How to stop it?

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 looking into Pakistan’s social order and evaluating if it would welcome any law which heavily negates social values and cultural beliefs.

Should capital punishment be abolished?

Pakistan put a ban on the death penalty in 2008 and lifted it after a barbaric attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. The question of the death penalty is often debated in Pakistan. Prominent anchorperson Dr. Moeed Pirzada argues that “the death penalty needs to be debated and rationalized in Pakistan”.

At the country’s creation in 1947, ‘death’ was awarded for only two counts. Now it’s 27. Dr. Moeed argues that countries that have abolished the death penalty did so in an evolutionary process. He offers an interesting background.

China, for instance, saw a brief period of abolition in the 8th century, Russian Bolsheviks banned the death penalty in 1917. In modern Europe, the Netherlands abolished capital punishment in peace times in 1878, but during wartimes from 1945 to 1952, many war prisoners were sentenced to death.

In the UK – a European country of much relevance to Pakistan – Sir Samuel Romilly had started the process of reduction in the death penalty in 1808. But the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment 1864-66 could not decide whether to abolish the death penalty or not, though it did away with public executions. In 1938 a parliamentary bill was to be debated for an experimental five-year suspension, but then the climate and feelings generated by the beginning of the Second World War made it impossible.

In 1949, once Nuremberg trials [a series of 13 trials carried out in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949 for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice] were out of the way, another Royal Commission on Capital Punishment examined the matter but advised against abolishment. Finally, in 1965 a five-year moratorium was placed on an experimental basis almost 160 years after Romilly had started to reform the punishment.

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In almost every European country, abolishment followed a similarly intense debate, reform of the system, and adjustment of the defense of life and property through other parallel enactments. Dr. Pirzada laments that in Pakistan, no public debate was initiated and a ban was imposed, which created more challenges, for instance, the increase in crime rates.

Can more laws protect women?

Although in the province of Punjab, The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2015 has been passed, there are still numerous cases of violence against women in the province. According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the number of honor killings in the province between June 2017 and August 2018 stood at 737.

The total number of such murders since the organization started keeping records in 2016 stands at 15,222. Honor killing has become almost a norm in many parts of Pakistan where women are treated as a commodity whose sole responsibility is to be submissive guardians of men’s honor and ego.

Experts and researchers suggest that in Pakistan’s social setting, like many other developing polities, there is a complex and rigid concept of power. Violence against women, like rape, is a demonstration of power and strength. It should, therefore, be understood from a sociological perspective which helps to understand the context in which these incidents take place. If a girl, for example, refuses a marriage proposal of a man or any other demand for any stated or unstated reasons she, by doing so, insults the man and hurts his ego. Such trends need to be challenged and immediately countered.

Read more: One in every three women in Punjab suffered violence: UNFPA

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