- About 21,900 women raped in Punjab from 2017-2021.
- Data taken from Punjab home department, Human rights ministry.
- Figures represent “only tip of iceberg”, War Against Rape believes.
Punjab, Pakistan – A startling report from the advocacy organization War Against Rape (WAR) has shed light on a deeply disturbing reality: an average of 12 women fall victim to sexual assault every day in Punjab, Pakistan. The report, which spans four years from 2017 to 2021, unveils a harrowing statistic of 21,900 women subjected to sexual violence during this period. These findings underscore the urgent need for action to protect women and children in the region.
The data, sourced from the Punjab home department and the Ministry of Human Rights, exposes the grave threat posed by sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in Pakistan. Despite existing legal provisions such as the Pakistan Penal Code sections 509, 354A, and 294, which criminalize various forms of sexual and GBV, survivors continue to face formidable obstacles when seeking justice. Low conviction rates and flaws in prosecution perpetuate the cycle of violence, leaving victims with lifelong mental and physical health challenges.
The WAR report emphasizes that the figures represent only the tip of the iceberg. Survivors confront numerous barriers, including stigma, fear, victim-blaming, and systemic biases within the justice system, which discourage them from reporting their ordeals.
The issue of early and forced marriages of children further compounds human rights violations in Pakistan, affecting nearly 18% of women. Shockingly, approximately 19 million child brides still exist in the country, with varying legal marriage ages across provinces. In Sindh, the legal age stands at 18 for both boys and girls, while in other provinces, girls can marry as young as 16.
Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, faces its own set of challenges. Domestic violence continues to plague the city, with the police surgeon’s office reporting 3,649 cases in 2022 alone. From July 2022 to June 2023, the WAR team investigated 66 cases of different forms of sexual violence in the city.
Disturbingly, among these cases, 44 survivors were children under 18, with the most vulnerable age group being 4-11 years. The average age of survivors was only 13, with the youngest survivor being a mere four years old. Of these cases, 85% involved women and girl children. The statistics reveal the pressing need for intervention to protect the city’s most vulnerable.
Korangi emerged as a red-alert zone in Karachi, with the highest incidence of sexual violence cases at 31%, followed closely by Surjani Town, from where 30% of cases were reported. Other areas, such as Saeedabad (11%), Iqbal Market (9%), Orangi Town (7%), Mehmoodabad (6%), and Gulshan-e-Iqbal (5%), also reported cases of sexual violence.
The WAR report points to a concerning underreporting of cases. Data collected from major public hospitals in Karachi revealed 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, highlighting the urgent need to improve mechanisms encouraging survivors to report incidents.
In the first six months of 2023, Pakistan has witnessed an alarming increase in child sexual abuse cases, with an average of 12 children falling victim to sexual abuse daily, totaling 2,227 cases. This represents a disturbing upward trend compared to data from 2021-22, highlighting the urgency of addressing this crisis.
Sexual harassment in the country is also a pressing concern. The Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment (FOSPAH) reported more than 2,000 complaints filed between 2018 and 2022 in the government sector and around 1,400 cases in the private sector, affecting both men and women. These cases often lead to job loss or the normalization of harassment, discouraging women from entering the workforce and hindering their financial independence.
WAR has issued several recommendations to address these dire issues, including the rigorous implementation of women and child protection laws, increased interdepartmental coordination, and the recruitment and training of female personnel in law enforcement and the judiciary. Additionally, encouraging the establishment of inquiry committees on sexual harassment within government and private organizations is crucial to ensuring compliance with codes of conduct and reducing and preventing harassment. It is imperative that Pakistan takes swift and comprehensive action to protect its women and children from the scourge of sexual violence and harassment.