PESHAWAR: Just after celebrating her 12th birthday, Nadia Bibi was married off. Now at the age of 29, she has suffered abuses at the hands of her husband all her married life. She continued bearing violence silently to abide by conservative and patriarchic norms of her region in Dargai. But her patience has now run out after her husband married their daughter off at the same age of 12 years and she gave birth to a baby boy after a year and a half.
Fed up with the situation, Nadia has approached the local court with the help of an NGO to seek a divorce. At the time of her marriage, she even couldn’t think of resisting her grandfather who was behind her marriage decision. From a village of Dargai, tehsil of Malakand division, Nadia related her personal story to Apni Awaz for the first time,
“My father had died and my mother wanted to send me back to my husband for the family’s respect.”
Now at 29, she has decided to revolt against her husband when he offered her 12 years old daughter’s hand to someone for settling a loan of twenty thousand rupees. After living in a hell for 17 years with her husband, Nadia went to the court seeking a divorce with the help of some NGOs.
She literally cries, “I got relieved from my abusive marriage but my husband was not given any punishment for those years of abuse.”
This is the story of hundreds of women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province where women silently suffer abuse and violence after getting married underage. They are routinely subjected to maltreatment and abuse on petty issues.
According to figures collected by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), most of the crimes are committed in the name of honor. The second highest number of cases registered is related to domestic violence.
HRCP’s monitoring surveys reveal figures of abuse against women showing a total of 674 crimes were committed in the name of so-called honor since 2013, which include, rape, abduction and murder of women. During the same period, 92 cases of domestic abuse were registered while 74 instances of sexual assault and 46 cases of kidnap were reported.
In 2012, the Directorate of Human Rights was established under an ordinance, which was declared an act in 2014.
Maqsood Ali, the Deputy Director at Directorate of Human Rights explained the work done by his department so far, saying, “For the last six years a total of 1018 cases were brought to us of which 966 were solved whereas 52 cases are under process.”
Answering a question about a discrepancy in figures provided by his department and those of Human Rights Commission, Ali said, “Rules and regulations at our department were created in 2015 so the public knows very little about us,” adding that they don’t have a good coordination with the police department.
Advocate Khushnood, a High Court lawyer, who provides legal assistance to women in cases of domestic abuse, said,
“Several women victims visit us with cases of domestic abuse. But the culprits get away with it easily as they are set free by the courts due to loopholes in the law.”
“The culprits are either set free straightaway or at the most, they are handed over minor sentences. Only strict laws and regulations can help us prevent crimes against women,” she asserted.
Nadia Khan of women Avenue, an NGO, is of the opinion that the national assembly passed bill 2016 on domestic violence is lacking in terms of the definition of the word violence as she explains,
“Violence is not only physical, violence could be verbal as well as psychological which needs to be covered under the law.”
She further adds, “After 18th amendment, it’s incumbent upon the provincial assemblies to make laws especially when the federal law on domestic violence has loopholes which are often exploited by the culprits in order to get away with heinous crimes.”
In KP provincial assembly, a record number of 160 bills were passed between 2013 and 2018 but not a single bill could be tabled in the assembly for the protection of women from domestic abuse and violence.
Women Parliamentary Caucus was created in 2013, a body of female members meant to work for the legislation for women protection against abuse but the body has remained inactive since March 2016.
The Caucus worked on seven bills for women welfare which include, act against dowry, protection against domestic violence, protection against harassment at workplace, act against abduction and trafficking of women and safety of maids against domestic abuse. But none of these bills could be presented in the assembly for legislation business. Every time the Caucus prepared to table a bill in the assembly, either the sessions were called off or it was declared a holiday.
Women members election on the reserved seat is attributed for little pro-women legislative business as Uzma Khan, a member provincial assembly KP, on a reserved seat for women explained, “Members elected on reserved and special seats can present any resolution, bill or attention calling notice only on Thursday set for private business. But unfortunately most Thursdays are declared holidays by the speaker and we have been unable to perform and present any bill.”
Some blame the provincial government’s lack of will to support pro-women legislation such as domestic violence bill, which has been pending for three years. Shawana Shah, an executive of Da Hawwa Lur, an NGO for women’s welfare said, ” Provincial government is not serious about solving women’s issues as the domestic violence bill has been pending for the last three years, even it could not be tabled in assembly session.”
“There has been little progress on the implementation of the bills passed by the assemble as the committees to hear sexual harassment cases have not been formed despite the passing of eight years,” Shawana asserts.
She further adds, “The establishment of Ombudsman to provide justice to women against violence has also been delayed and we have even filed a petition in court for its establishment,” adding that it results in a delay in justice, perpetuating violence against women.
The story of Nadia Bibi of Swat has emerged as the epitome of women’s plight and helplessness in the face of domestic abuse against women as she tells, “I couldn’t get my daughter released from her abusive marriage and she gave birth to a baby boy last year at the age of 13 only.”
Edited by Hasan Khan