Revisiting rape laws
Date and Time:
9th Feb. 2021 (Tuesday) at 1600 hrs (4 pm)
Sameer Khosa, lawyer and partner at Axis Law Chambers
Mehlab Jameel, researcher on gender and sexuality
Fatima Bokhari, advocate, legal researcher and author of “Accountability for rape: A case study”
Sara Malkani, advocate and researcher
Some significant developments have recently taken place around the rape law in this country. Two ordinances have been introduced by the federal government which, if adopted by the parliament, will change the law relating to rape in some fundamental ways. Foremost among them is the introduction of gender-neutral definition of rape in the Pakistan Penal Code. Some ambitious procedural changes have also been introduced for the purpose of investigation and prosecution of the offence of rape. For instance, provisions relating to in-camera trial and its conclusion within four months, victim and witness protection, provision of legal aid, shelter and financial support have been introduced some of which were already available in the Code of Criminal Procedure. Similarly, some of the sexual offences shall be investigated by police officer not below the grade of BPS-17 and certain other offences shall be investigated by a team called Joint Investigation Team (JIT). A few more questionable provisions have also been introduced which include compulsory castration of habitual offenders and, in extreme cases, of first-time offenders too.
The other important development regarding investigation has come about through the Lahore High Court’s verdict declaring the practice of “two-finger test” to ascertain virginity of victims unconstitutional, holding it in violation of the fundamental rights to privacy and human dignity.
These developments have taken place in the backdrop of the ‘Motorway gang rape’ incident and the dismal failure of the criminal justice system to adequately investigate and prosecute rape cases.
But we have been here before. It was in 2016 that several important procedural changes to rape law were introduced. Today, after more such developments, the questions worth asking are: are we better equipped in providing legal protection to victims of sexual violence; also, are we on the right course in preempting crime, a fundamental function of any criminal justice system?
In order to discuss such questions as well as the problems and opportunities created by the proposed amendments and the Lahore High Court’s verdict.