As many as 21,900 women were raped in Punjab in just four years, translating to an average of 12 women assaulted daily or one woman every two hours. A report published by War Against Rape (WAR) – a non government organization – cites data taken from the Punjab home department and the Ministry of Human Rights from 2017 to 2021.
Sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in Pakistan continues to pose a grave threat to the safety and well-being of women and children due to low conviction rates and flaws in prosecution, creating lifelong mental and physical health challenges for victims.
Despite existing laws such as the Pakistan Penal Code sections 509, 354A, and 294 that criminalise various forms of sexual and GBV, many victims encounter formidable obstacles when seeking justice.
However, the advocacy organisation believes these figures represent only the tip of the iceberg due to various barriers survivors face, including stigma, fear, victim-blaming, and systemic biases in the justice system.
Early and forced marriages of children remain a significant human rights violation in Pakistan, affecting nearly 18% of women.
Shockingly, approximately 19 million child brides still exist in the country. The minimum legal age for marriage varies across provinces, with Sindh setting it at 18 for both boys and girls, while other provinces allow girls to marry at just 16.
Domestic violence also plagues Karachi, with the police surgeon’s office in the city reporting 3,649 cases in 2022 alone. From July 2022 to June 2023, a WAR team investigated 66 cases of different forms of sexual violence.
Among these cases, 44 survivors were children under 18 years with the most vulnerable age group being 4-11 years. The average age of survivors was only 13 years, with the youngest survivor being a mere four years old. Of these cases, 85% involved women and girl children.
Of the total 66 cases, 35 were rape cases, 11 were gang rape cases, another 11 were attempted rapes, and nine involved incest. Alarmingly, boys were victims in 10 cases, and tragically 12 children were murdered after sexual violence, including nine girls and three boys.
According to the WAR statistics, Korangi has emerged as a red-alert zone with the highest incidence of sexual violence cases at 31%, followed closely by Surjani Town from where 30% of such cases were reported.
The Saeedabad area reported 11% of the cases, Iqbal Market 9%, Orangi Town 7%, Mehmoodabad 6% and Gulshan-e-Iqbal reported 5% of the cases of sexual violence.
Underreporting of cases: The organisation collected official data from three major public hospitals of Karachi revealing that 1,256 medico-legal examinations (MLEs) in sexual assault cases were conducted from January 2021 to December 2022 while only 499 first information reports (FIRs) were lodged during the same period.
These FIRs were lodged in just 38% of the cases where MLEs were conducted. WAR’s report read: “This underscores the urgent need for improved mechanisms to encourage survivors to report incidents.
Child Sexual Abuse Cases Surge: In the first six months of 2023, Pakistan witnessed a harrowing increase in child sexual abuse cases, with an average of 12 children sexually abused daily, totalling 2,227 cases. The comparison with 2021-22 data shows a disturbing upward trend in child sexual abuse cases.
Workplace Harassment: The report also discusses the cases of sexual harassment in the country. According to the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment (FOSPAH), more than 2,000 complaints were filed between 2018 and 2022 in the government sector and around 1,400 cases in the private sector, involving both men and women.
“Due to harassment, a large number of complainants end up leaving their jobs or normalising the harassment and hostile work environment. This discourages women from entering the workforce and restricts them from reaching financial independence”
Recommendations: WAR has recommended rigorous implementation of women and child protection laws, including the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act 2022, and the Anti-Rape Act 2021. In addition, there is a need for strengthening interdepartmental coordination to efficiently handle and respond to survivors.
There is also a need to increase the recruitment and training of female personnel in the police force, judiciary, and prosecution, enhancing their knowledge of women and child protection laws. Also, the capacity of police personnel to understand gender, case management, and investigative skills should be improved.
WAR has also called for encouraging the government, semi-government and private organisations to establish inquiry committees on sexual harassment, ensuring compliance with codes of conduct to reduce and prevent harassment.