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Mob justice is not acceptable in Pakistan society

Combating violence against women, reforms could be adapted and replicated in other regions to protect children against violence.

By Waqar Mustafa

Published: Tue 17 Sep 2019, 9:39 AM

Last updated: Tue 17 Sep 2019, 11:43 AM

Salahuddin's right arm bore the name of his village, the police station it fell under, the district the village was located in, and a phone number to inform his family in case something untoward happened to him. But why, you might wonder. According to his father, he was mentally challenged and would go missing for several weeks. Earlier this month, police in Rahim Yar Khan city in the southern part of Punjab arrested this young northern villager for allegedly robbing an ATM. He was taken into custody, and then reported dead. A lawyer shared pictures on social media of this boy's body before his burial. He had multiple bruises on his arms and legs, which, he said, were 'clear evidence' of torture. The court has launched a judicial inquiry into the boy's death in custody.
This is not a one-off incident; torture is endemic in the society. From classrooms to workshops, homes to streets, police stations to public places, it's everywhere. At schools - seminaries and regular ones alike - rods are not spared, leaving a law banning this practice poorly implemented. At workshops, it is customary to beat interns even for minor mistakes. At homes, women are thrashed sometimes for not serving hot food. On the streets, suspects are seldom handed over to the police without a good drubbing. And there are complaints of torture, and sometimes death, in police custody in their attempt to extract a confession.
Set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030, the Sustainable Development Goal 16 aims to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels." The targets include reduction in violence and related death rates; an end to abuse, violence and torture of children; rule of law and equal access to justice; protection of fundamental freedoms; and strengthening of institutions to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.
As a state party to the Convention Against Torture and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Pakistan is required to "take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction." However, no meaningful system is in place to prosecute perpetrators or provide remedies to survivors. And so, torture continues to remain socially and politically acceptable.
According to a study, titled, Not Accepting Abuse as the Norm: Local Forms of Institutional Reform to Improve Reporting on Domestic Violence in Punjab by Maryam Tanwir, Shailaja Fennell, Hafsah Rehman Lak, and Salman Sufi, such social norms are difficult to overcome, due to a lack of consensus among legal, religious, and social institutions on the direction that will result in new social norms.
Pakistan has launched a comprehensive institutional reform on violence against women. The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWVA) of 2016 and the establishment of Violence Against Women Centres aim not only to provide protective services to survivors of violence, but also to increase the conviction rate, with regard to VAW crimes and thus, serve as an effective form of deterrence against gendered violence in society. The initiative not only provides safe and supportive environments for women victims but also increases the public visibility of the assailant by enforcing the requirement of wearing a tracking device. These public forms of changing the acceptability of violence against women can provide the trigger for men to choose not to behave violently towards women, as it increases the public opprobrium associated with this type of behaviour.
The study says that such an innovative institutional reform could be adapted for use in other countries to reduce violence against women cases and to increase the success in prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators of such crimes. Besides combating violence against women, such a reform could be adapted and replicated in other regions to protect children and the vulnerable, in particular, and people, in general, against violence. For instance, police backed by forensic evidence and modern investigation methods ensuring conviction will be more effective against crimes than the one whom Salahuddin was taped asking: From where have you mastered art of torturing people?
Waqar Mustafa is a journalist and commentator based in Lahore, Pakistan

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