Domestic violence bill

Pakistan has failed to enact a bill on domestic violence for over five years. The Domestic Violence Bill 2020 was passed by the National Assembly in April this year but it has been sent to Council of Islamic Ideology (CCI) for review after the Senate sought amendments in the bill. The religious body will now sidestep parliament to issue its own ruling on the legislation.

The bill aims to protect women, children, elderly and other vulnerable groups from domestic violence. It also seeks to offer relief and rehabilitation to all individuals who are victims of domestic violence. After multiple amendments to the draft, the bill was finally passed but all efforts have been set aside. Then objections were raised that it contravenes Islamic injunctions and should be reviewed.

The bill drew the ire of many religious hardliners and conservative sections. The bill proposes stringent punishment against perpetrators of domestic violence but has also exposed the fault lines and divisive opinions in the country. Many opposition lawmakers have also expressed concerns that bills on human rights have been pushed from the agenda of the parliamentary procedures.

The CCI remains a controversial body even though it has been revamped in the past few years. In 2016, Punjab passed a bill on violence against women for the first time in history but faced objections. The bill was referred to the CCI which issued a decree allowing women to ‘lightly beat’ their wives. The CCI has opposed the use of DNA for investigation in rape and sexual assault cases and has refrained from stimulating a minimum age for marriage.

Several bills have passed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and a child marriage act has been enforced in Sindh but are hardly implemented. A bill adopted after passing through the CCI or the opinion of religious scholars is diluted and completely ineffective. It is then argued that laws cannot be formed which violate Islamic injunctions whereas the objective is to protect fundamental human rights.

Domestic violence laws are the need of the hour in a society like Pakistan. We have witnessed several cases of sexual, physical, and mental abuse against women and other vulnerable groups. It is imperative that those opposing such legislation without any logical conclusion should be shunned. We need to create a society that is safe for women but even granting basic rights creates controversy.