Domestic violence in Pakistan

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Domestic violence in Pakistan is an endemic social problem. According to a study carried out in 2009 by Human Rights Watch, it is estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered some form of abuse.[1] An estimated 5000 women are killed per year from domestic violence, with thousands of others maimed or disabled.[2] The majority of victims of violence have no legal recourse. Law enforcement authorities do not view domestic violence as a crime and usually refuse to register any cases brought to them. Given the very few women's shelters in the country, victims have limited ability to escape from violent situations.[2]

Types of abuse[edit]

An estimated 5000 women are killed per year from domestic violence, with thousands of others maimed or disabled.[2] Lisa Hajjar, an Associate Professor at the University of California, describes abuse against women in Pakistan as "endemic in all social spheres".[3] In an observational study published in the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences based on a "convenience" sample of 218 women in the gynecology wards of three hospitals, 97% of the interviewed women said they had been victims of some form of assault, ranging from verbal abuse or threatened, to being subjected to beatings or non-consensual sex.[4]

Dowry deaths have been described by the United Nations as a form of domestic violence.[5] Women are often attacked and murdered if their in-laws deem their dowry to have been insufficient.[6] Amongst dowry-related violence, bride burnings, also known as "stove deaths",[7] are widely reported. In 1988 a survey showed that 800 women were killed in this manner, in 1989 the number rose to 1100, and in 1990 it stood at 1800 estimated killings. According to the Progressive Women's Association, such attacks are a growing problem and, in 1994 on International Women's Day, announced that various NGOs would join to raise awareness of the issue.[8] Newspapers in Lahore in a six-month period (1997) reported on average 15 attacks a month.[9] Women's eNews reported that 4,000 women had been attacked in this manner in Islamabad's surroundings over an eight-year period, and that the average age range of victims was between 18 and 35, with an estimated 30 percent being pregnant at the time of death.[7] The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that about four women are killed in this manner every day, by either family members or husbands.[10] Shahnaz Bukhari, who runs the Progressive Women's Association in Islamabad, has said of such attacks: "Either Pakistan is home to possessed stoves which burn only young housewives, and are particularly fond of genitalia, or looking at the frequency with which these incidences occur there is a grim pattern that these women are victims of deliberate murder."[7]

Acid attacks in Pakistan came to international attention after the release of a documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy called Saving Face (2012).[11] According to Shahnaz Bukhari, the majority of these attacks occur in the summer when acid is used extensively to soak certain seeds to induce germination.[12] Various reasons have been given for such attacks, such as a woman dressing inappropriately or rejecting a proposal of marriage. The first known instance of an acid attack occurred in East Pakistan in 1967.[13] According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, up to 150 attacks occur every year. The foundation reports that the attacks are often the result in an escalation of domestic abuse, and the majority of victims are female.[11]


Various factors are associated with domestic violence in Pakistan. Poverty, illiteracy and social taboos are considered the main reasons for domestic violence in the country.[14] A lack of awareness about women’s rights and a lack of support from the government have been cited as two reasons.[15] Another factor given for the rise in domestic violence has been due to increased urbanization. As people move from villages and increasingly live apart from an extended family, assaults are less likely to be prevented by the intervention of family members, who in past times often intervened in domestic conflicts.[16] Another reason given for abuses is patriarchalism in Islamic society, which marginalizes women’s role.[17] In some traditional societies, a man is considered to have the right to physically beat his spouse.[5] According to Rahel Nardos, it is "the dual constructs of women as the property of men and as the standard-bearers of a family's honour set the stage for culturally sanctioned forms of violence".[18] Women have reported attacks ranging from physical to psychological and sexual abuse from partners, in-laws and family members.[19] In 1998 of 1974 reported murders the majority of victims were killed by either family members or In laws.[17] A survey carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous country in the world for women, after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; it is followed by India and Somalia.[20]

Political response[edit]

In 1976 the Pakistani government passed legislation on dowry and bridal gifts in an attempt to eliminate the custom but, because of cultural and societal norms combined with government ineffectiveness, such killings over inadequate dowries continue.[17] In 1999 the Senate of Pakistan rejected a resolution which would have condemned the practice of murdering women for the sake of family honour.[21] The following year, on 21 April 2000, the national government leader Pervez Musharraf declared that honour killings were "vigorously condemned" by the government and would be treated as murder.[22] The Ministry of Women Development set up ten crisis centres to help the victims of domestic violence and raise the awareness level of the people on this issue.[23] In 2011 the Senate passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill to repress acid attacks in the country; the senate also passed the prevention of anti-women practices bill.[24]

In 2009 a Domestic Violence Protection bill was proposed by Yasmeen Rehman of the Pakistan People’s Party. It was passed in the National Assembly[25] but subsequently failed to be passed in the second chamber of parliament, the Senate, within the prescribed period of time.[26] The Council of Islamic Ideology objected to the bill, saying in current form it will increase divorces, besides the bill considered women and children the only victims of domestic violence, ignoring elderly and weak men. The council argued that the punishments suggested by this bill are already enacted by other laws and suggested lack of action on these laws being the reason for increase in domestic violence.[27] After the passage of Eighteenth constitutional amendment, the matter pertaining to the bill became a provincial issue.[28] It was re-tabled in 2012, but met with a deadlock in parliament because of stiff opposition from the religious right. Representatives of Islamic organizations vowed resistance to the proposed bill, describing it as "anti-Islamic" and an attempt to promote "Western cultural values" in Pakistan. They asked for the bill to be reviewed before being approved by the parliament.[29] The bill was passed for Islamabad Capital Territory.[28][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cited in: Gosselin, Denise Kindschi (2009). Heavy Hands: An Introduction to the Crime of Intimate and Family Violence (4th ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 13. ISBN 978-0136139034. 
  2. ^ a b c Hansar, Robert D. (2007). "Cross-Cultural Examination of Domestic Violence in China and Pakistan". In Nicky Ali Jackson. Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 211. ISBN 978-0415969680. 
  3. ^ Hajjar, Lisa (2004). "Domestic Violence and Sharía: A Comparative Study of Muslim Societies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia". In Lynn Welchman. Women's Rights and Islamic Family Law: Perspectives on Reform. Zed Books. p. 265. ISBN 978-1842770955. 
  4. ^ Shaikh, Masood Ali (2003). "Is domestic violence endemic in Pakistan: perspective from Pakistani Wives" (PDF). Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 19 (1): 23–28.  Cited in: Hanser, Robert D. (2007). "Cross-cultural examination of domestic violence in China and Pakistan". In Nicky Ali Jackson. Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 211. ISBN 978-0415969680. 
  5. ^ a b Van Wormer, Katherine; Fred H. Besthorn (2010). Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Macro Level: Groups, Communities (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0199740574. 
  6. ^ Pickup, Francine; Suzanne Williams; Caroline Sweetman (2000). Ending Violence Against Women: A Challenge for Development and Humanitarian Work. Oxfam. p. 91. ISBN 978-0855984380. 
  7. ^ a b c Terzieff, Juliette (October 27, 2002). "Pakistan's Fiery Shame: Women Die in Stove Deaths". Women's eNews. 
  8. ^ Rappaport, Helen (2001). Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 115. ISBN 978-1576071014. 
  9. ^ Jilani, Hina; Eman M. Ahmed (2004). "Violence against Women: The Legal System and Institutional Responses in Pakistan". In Savitri Goonesekere. Violence, Law and Women's Rights in South Asia. Sage. p. 161. ISBN 978-0761997962. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  10. ^ Kapoor, Sushma (June 2000). "Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls" (PDF). Innocenti Digest (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre) (6): 7. ISSN 1028-3528. 
  11. ^ a b Rodriguez, Alex (May 29, 2012). "Pakistan offers little justice for victims of acid attacks". Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^ Ali, Sahar (July 28, 2003). "Acid attack victim demands justice". BBC. 
  13. ^ Weightman, Barbara A. (2012). Dragons and Tigers: A Geography of South, East, and Southeast Asia (3rd ed.). Wiley. p. 77. ISBN 978-0470876282. 
  14. ^ "Poverty, illiteracy termed causes of domestic violence". Dawn. 3 March 2006. Retrieved 6 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "Domestic violence". Dawn. 25 April 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012. 
  16. ^ Weiss, Anita M. (1998). "Pakistan: Some progress, sobering challenges". In Selig S. Harrison, Paul H. Kreisberg, Dennis Kux. India and Pakistan: The First Fifty Years. Cambridge University Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0521645850. 
  17. ^ a b c Zaman, Habiba (2004). Suad Joseph, Afsaneh Najmabad, ed. Family, Law and Politics: Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: 2. Brill. p. 124. ISBN 978-9004128187. 
  18. ^ Nardos, Rahel; Michael L. Penn; Mary K. Radpour; William S. Hatcher (2003). "Cultural, Traditional Practices and Gender-Based Violence". Overcoming Violence Against Women and Girls: The International Campaign to Eradicate a World-wide Problem. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-0742525009. 
  19. ^ Ajmal, Umer Bin (25 April 2012). "Domestic violence". Dawn. Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
  20. ^ Anderson, Lisa (15 June 2011). "Trustlaw Poll: Afghanistan is most dangerous country for women". Thomson Reuters Foundation. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  21. ^ Ajmal, Umer Bin (25 August 1999). "World:South Asia Bride burning 'kills hundreds'". Dawn. 
  22. ^ Kapoor, Sushma (June 2000). "Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls" (PDF). Innocenti Digest (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre) (6): 6. ISSN 1028-3528. 
  23. ^ Shahina Imran (11 March 2008). "Pakistan: Domestic violence endemic, but awareness slowly rising". Lahore. Integrated Regional Information Networks. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  24. ^ Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Report. TSO. 2012. p. 292. ISBN 978-0101833929. 
  25. ^ Ghauri, Irfan (August 5, 2009). "NA passes law against domestic violence". Daily Times. 
  26. ^ Zahid Gishkori (6 April 2012). "Opposition forces government to defer women domestic violence bill". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
  27. ^ Nasir Iqbal (24 August 2009). "Domestic Violence Bill to push up divorce rate: CII". Dawn. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  28. ^ a b Ayesha Shahid (7 April 2012). "Domestic violence bill gets new look". Dawn. Retrieved 6 September 2012. 
  29. ^ Gishkori, Zahid (April 17, 2012). "Citing ‘controversial’ clauses: Clerics vow to resist passage of Domestic Violence Bill". The Express Tribune. 
  30. ^ "Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2012" (PDF). Senate of Pakistan. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 

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