Justice for survivors
The new anti-rape law, passed by a joint sitting of parliament earlier this month, offers the hope of greater justice to victims of rape by addressing some key issues that had stood in the way of this. In the first place, overriding a ruling by the Council of Islamic Ideology, the bill permits the use of DNA evidence in tracking down a perpetrator – a vital task in any rape investigation. It also disallows evidence pertaining to the character of the victim, a factor which under the Qanoon-e-Shahadat law of 1984 had been used again and again to allow rapists to get away with their crime. While the law lays down a specific maximum punishment for rape, assigning a life sentence to perpetrators and death sentence in the case of the rape of a minor or a mentally disabled person unless the family of the victim grants a pardon in which case the death sentence will be converted to life imprisonment, there are still major loopholes that stand out.
In the first place, no minimum punishment has been assigned, a factor which often means giving out guilty verdicts is something courts steer away from in practice. Also, the previous assault history of the accused person cannot be brought on record although, as legal experts have pointed out, this is often of crucial significance in determining if the offence was committed. The onus for proving rape also lies with the victim, while there is no clause covering the sexual assault of a man – a common crime in the country where according to figures collected by NGOs up to 1,000 male children are sodomised each year. Passing the law is just the first step. If the government is truly serious about dealing with rape and cutting down on the number of cases in a country where four rapes are reported each day, then steps need to be taken to bolster the law by backing up the measures it lays down and ensuring these go into practical effect each time a victim makes an accusation.