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February 25, 2016 - Comments Off on Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 – A [shaky] step forward

Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 – A [shaky] step forward

Punjab’s violence against women problem is no small one. And the Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 is a good first step in addressing the oft ignored elephant in the room.

Punjab has had a real issue with violence against women. Data from 2014 produced by the Aurat Foundation has shown that the problem comes with big numbers. Punjab has the largest number of domestic violence cases reported of any province in Pakistan, and over 7,010 cases were reported during 2014 alone.

A 2002 study published in the Lancet showed that 99% of housewives and 77% of working women were subjected to domestic abuse by their husbands. Lack of data makes it impossible to figure out whether these numbers have reduced or worsened - but the larger picture is not a pretty one.

With this scenario in mind, the idea of the new Act is a welcome one - but for it to become a well oiled machine, there are still some problems that need weeding. In 2015 the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill was put before the Punjab Assembly, with the specific purpose of providing women in the Punjab with a form of legal protection against violence. On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, the Bill in question passed and became an Act.  

Though the Act in question does ostensibly afford women protection, it requires further serious scrutiny. It defines “violence” as:

“…any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime”

The bill mentions several forms of violence, and includes stalking and other cybercrimes. However, the bill fails to provide clear indications and explanations of what those terms mean and entail; in comparison, the newly added terms “economic abuse” and “psychological violence” are further elaborated upon in greater length.

But what’s a cybercrime?

It is regrettable that what constitutes as cybercrime is not clearly explained in more detail, especially in the context of cybercrime-related cases that are constantly on the rise. Cyberstalking, harassment through social media, sharing of inappropriate (and usually stolen) material, unauthorised power and access of computer systems, and the distribution of personal information belonging to other people all constitute cybercrimes; it is important that the legislation mentions this salient point, so that laypeople, women in particular, can easily understand what manner of acts can be reported, and what the penalties are.

Moreover, the bill fails to clearly mention which authority body will be looking into cybercrime, and whether it is the role of the police or the Federal Investigation Agency to take on cases relating to it. Should the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) be passed, furthermore, we must examine and determine which law will supersede the other.

Complicating the matter is the fact that many cybercrime offenders - including in particular online bullying and cyberstalking - will create numerous fake social media profiles. In doing so, quickly ascertaining who is actually behind the profile, and is the guilty party sought after, before they are aware of police being on their scene, becomes more difficult.

The GPS tracker problem

The bill also utilises abstracts without clear definitions. Provision 7(d) of the bill, for instance, suggests that the defendant:

“wear ankle or wrist bracelet GPS tracker for any act of grave violence or likely grave violence which may endanger the life, dignity or reputation of the aggrieved person;"

The bill does not clarify in what is defined by “dignity or reputation.” Further to this, the wearing of an ankle or wrist GPS tracker does not to be an effective enough deterrent, especially when it comes to harassment, whether online or offline.

There is also the question of what the repercussions maybe for a wife that reports her husband and leads to him being tracked with a wrist GPS. There is the potential danger that a man may react even more violently to the social ridicule and ostracization that may come with it.   

Moreover, there are no provisions to indicate who will be monitoring on the GPS trackers. We also do not know whether Pakistan even has the mechanism or capacity to handle such a medium of monitoring someone. Who will prevent this provision from being abused and how? Will the police, which is already lacking in resources, be able to react in time to a man violating the GPS order and staying away from his victim? There are many questions that need to be posed about these trackers, and the answers are nowhere in sight.

All in all, the bill is a good first step in the right direction. Pakistan, and Punjab, desperately need protective legislation such as this one. However, no legislation should be accepted without scrutiny. And the weaknesses in this Act could pose major problems in the future. In it’s current state, it is a fabulous work in progress that requires improvements.

Have a look at the full text from the Act hereProtection Of Women Against Violence Act 2015

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Blog

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