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Pakistan: Police Response to Crimes Against Women Lacking

The suicide of a young woman raped at gunpoint follows a series of recent incidents in which horrific crimes against women in Pakistan’s Punjab province have been brought to the world’s attention. Since the case of Mukhtaran Bibi, who was gang-raped as punishment for her brother’s “crime,” made headlines last month – the number of women reporting rapes has skyrocketed, according to the New York Times. While six men were arrested for the crime against Bibi, women’s rights advocates are concerned that other reports are not being taken seriously. “Women are encouraged to report the crime of rape now,” Asma Jehangir, the most prominent female lawyer and women’s rights advocate in Pakistan told the Times. “We are, of course, receiving information that they are getting very disappointed.”

Naseem Mai told the police she would kill herself if the man who raped her was not arrested, according to the New York Times. Two days later she watched as the police allowed her rapist to flee. She died moments later after drinking a bottle of pesticide. Although the man was arrested a week later, Naseem’s family does not have much faith in justice – her rapist is from a wealthy family who can easily bribe the police.

Meanwhile, a deal last week between two Pakistani families settling a “blood debt” was canceled after details of eight forced marriages prompted a national outcry. To spare the lives of four men from one family who were convicted and sentenced to die for the murder of two men from another family, eight girls — ages 5 to 18 years old — were offered, along with $130,000, for marriage to the victims’ family. The intended husbands, most of whom already had wives, were considerably older - one was 80 years old. Fervent protests by human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Aurat Foundation, Women Action Forum, Rozan and Amal, led to intervention by village elders and the Pakistani government. The four convicted men may again face execution, unless an alternative settlement is reached.

While the number of forced marriages each year in Pakistan is unknown, experts suggest they are common practice, according to “Women continue to be seen as possessions of men, as something that can be given away, like cattle or gold,” said HRCP Joint Director Kamila Hyat. In a statement released last week, the human rights groups expressed the need for change: “We call upon all Pakistanis to raise their voice against this incident, which is not just a matter of the breakdown of law and order, but also of the persistence of the ugly feudal traditions in our society and the absence of the basic norms of human decency and conscience.”

Media Resources: 7/25/02; 7/26/02; UN wire 7/26/02; New York Times 7/28/02

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