Pakistan Revises Rape Laws, Giving Some Hope To Christian Women
By BosNewsLife News Center
11/15/06 Pakistan (BosNewsLife) In a move that could help many embattled Christian women, Pakistan’s lower house of Parliament on Wednesday, November 15, approved a bill giving greater rights to women by amending the country’s strict Islamic, or Sharia, laws on rape. However Christian rights groups have called for the laws to be scrapped altogether. Key changes adopted Wednesday, November 15, include dropping punishments of death or flogging for those convicted of having consensual sex outside marriage.
Under the amendments, the crime is now punishable by five years in jail or a 10,000 rupees (US$165) fine, officials said.
Parliament also gave judges the discretion to decide whether to try a rape case in either a secular criminal or Islamic court, a move that prompted Islamist lawmakers to storm out of the chamber in anger, news reports said.
Strict Islamic laws dictate that a woman who claims rape must produce four witnesses in court, making a trial of the alleged rapist almost impossible because such attacks rarely happen in public.
Rape and adultery in Pakistan are dealt with under the Hudood Ordinance, a controversial set of Islamic laws introduced from 1979 by Gen Zia-ul-Haq.
This has led to serious problems for Christian women to walk away from their abusive Muslim husbands or to seek help from police, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told BosNewsLife.
“Often cases of Muslim women like Mukhtaran Mai, Dr. Shazia and Zafran Bibi gain international attention. But, the plights of un-known Christian girls like Sumaira, Asia, Asther, Riffat, Tahira Siraj, Nadia, Afsheen, Ribqa and many others are seldom heard,” CLAAS told BosNewsLife.
“These women have been raped, tortured, forcibly married to those who abused them, and deprived of justice. This is mainly because the Christian community in Pakistan is too marginalized and poor to challenge the atrocities against their women and young girls,” the group added in a statement before Wednesday’s vote.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz described the decision by parliament to at least start tackling the issue of rape as a “historic bill.” He said, “it will give rights to women and help end excesses against them.”
A woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours in Pakistan, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission.
But several of Pakistan’s Islamic parties called the legislation “a harbinger of lewdness and indecency in the country”, and against the strictures of the Koran and Sharia law.
They have threatened nationwide protests over the revised bill.
Addressing parliament on Wednesday, the leader of the six-party MMA Islamic alliance, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, reportedly said the bill would “turn Pakistan into a free-sex zone”.
Government officials have denied the charges, saying concerns of the conservative Islamic groups have been respected in the revised laws.