Pakistanis Okays Verbal, Psychological or sexual Abuses of Wives

Pakistani women activists and MPs believe a new bill stipulating jail terms for husbands over verbally, psychologically or sexually abuses of wives would have a devastating impact on the family institution and would send divorce rates sky-high.

"This is a crude bill. I totally object [to] that," Ismat Mehdi, a senior lawyer, told

"This is aimed at ruining the domestic lives of our women."

The Ministry of Law is putting the final touches to a draft legislation called Protection Against Domestic Violence of Women & Children (PADVWC).

The proposed law will allow a woman sexually harassed or otherwise wronged by her husband to approach a protection committee and then the court of law.

The expression "domestic violence", the document says, includes "any willful conduct which: (a) (i) is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman out of the house or to commit suicide or to injure herself; (ii) causes injury or danger to the life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; (b) involves: (i) harassment which causes distress to a woman and includes, (ii) any act which compels the woman to have sexual intercourse against her will either with the husband or any of his relatives or with any other person; (iii) any act which is unbecoming of the dignity of the women; or (iv) any other act of omission of commission which is likely to cause mental torture or mental agony to the woman."

A husband found to be in violation of the law would get up to three years of jail.

However, the draft does not provide any relief for husbands being harassed or otherwise wronged by their wives.

PADVWC is seen as the furtherance of the already enacted Women Protection Act (WPA), an amendment of the 1979 Hudood Ordinance on rape and adultery.

It slashed the adultery punishment to imprisonment of up to five years against only male perpetrator.

Under the Hudood code, a man and woman found guilty of having sex outside of marriage could be sentenced to death by stoning or 100 lashes, although that has never been enforced and those convicted of the crime get jail or a fine instead as hnded down by the courts. Yet 'honour killings' carried out by family against women remain an issue in Pakistan.


Opponents insist that the text does out define sexual harassment.

"My first question to those who have recommended this bill is how would they define the sexual harassment when a husband and a wife are concerned," asked lawyer Mehdi.

Barrister Wajiha, who practices law in UK, says physical abuse and sexual harassment are two different issues.

"There should be and in fact there are laws against physical abuse or torture, but sexual harassment is very difficult to explain," she told reporters.

"It is better to resolve such issues within the family."

Fareeda Ahmed Siddiqui, an MP of the six-party religious alliance, the Muttehida Majlis-e-Amal, sees the bill as being in clear contravention of Shari`ah, Islamic law.

"Husbands and wives are bound to fulfill the sexual desire of each other. What is the question of sexual harassment," she told reporters.

The lawmaker blasted the vogue language of the proposed bill.

"One of the clauses of this bill says that a husband could be sent to jail if he verbally, psychologically or sexually abuses her wife. That means, if he even talks to his wife in a loud tone, he could be sent to the jail because the wife can complain that she has been psychologically hurt due to the loud tone," she said.


Siddiqui says that instead of encouraging couples to sort out their problems the proposed legislation encourages outing domestic problems.

"In the Islamic system, differences between husband and wife, no matter how serious they are, are encouraged to be resolved through the intervention of close relatives of the two sides."

She accused foreign-funded NGOs of pressing for the enactment of such alien laws.

Lawyer Mehdi agreed that the Pakistani society is totally different from Western societies and such bills cannot be implemented here.

"No matter in which society you live laws are like clothes to make you fit. If laws are not fit for your society, they create a mess," she warned.

Nasima Sultana, a senior educator, believes problems should be resolved inside the house.

"Can this law prevent a man from divorcing his wife if she sends him behind the bars? Of course not, therefore it is much better to settle down such issues within the family ranks," she told media.

"I always advise my [female] students not to be impressed by the western type of family system, which is being introduced in our society through different means. That (west) is another world. Our world is totally different. Therefore, we must live in accordance with our culture and traditions," Sultana maintained.

"We must tell the West that we are different from them and are proud of our religious and social values."

Breaking Families

Critics warn that the controversial bill would wreck havoc on the family institution in Pakistan.

"If a wife goes to police or the court against her husband, and he is punished, can you imagine what would be its effect on their married life?" asked lawyer Mehdi.

"It will almost be impossible for them to live together if a husband is sent behind bars."

"Even if a couple is not divorced, they cannot spit out the grudge against each other for the rest of their lives."

Wajiha, the legal practitioner, agrees.

"It is not just that a woman goes to the court and the police to lodge a complaint against her husband, and he will be sent to jail immediately.

"She will have to provide proof for sexual harassment before the court. She will have to stand in front of her husband in the court," she said.

"One does not have to be a genius to understand the fate of that couple."

Ms Siddiqui, one of the most senior woman parliamentarians, shares the same concern.

"One cannot imagine how badly this bill will affect our family system. This will shatter the entire family system," she told reporters.

She believes the implementation of the proposed bill would jack up divorce rates in the South Asian Muslim country.

"It will increase the divorce ratio to a dreadful extent as it will not merely affect the husband-wife lives, but its psychological effects will badly affect their children's lives."

Lawyer Mehdi also recognizes that children will bear the brunt in such cases.

"Children will be the worst affected in case of a divorce in the wake of this bill."


Fauzia Wahab, who sits on an eight-member National Assembly committee on the bill, supports the legislation.

"This is true that it will harm our family system and values, but the family system should not be protected at the cost of women," she says.

"There is a dire need to seek aid of legislation to keep the family united honorably and with dignity and to protect women's interests," she insisted.

Wahab said the new legislation will cover all kind of harassment which causes distress to a woman.

"Legislation may help [in] eradication of these offences if there is strict enforcement and implementation of laws, but this object can only be achieved if there is awareness among the masses of their rights and obligations."

The committee, which comprises three members from former premier Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan peoples Party (PPP) and five from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q), had sent its recommendations to the Law Ministry for further course of action.

Well-placed official sources told reporters that the government had chosen at this point in time for this legislation to divert attention from the simmering judicial crisis.

President Prevez Musharraf suspension of the country's top judge, Iftikhar Chaudry, has plunged the south Asian country into a judicial and constitutional crisis and several judges have since resigned their posts in protest.

Many believe Chaudry is being punished for refusing to toe the official line on several issues, including the controversial file of missing Pakistanis, as well as his opposition to the planned re-election of Musharraf later this year.

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