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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 March 2021

Pakistan approves chemical castration and hanging among tougher rape penalties

A spate of violent sex attacks against women and children have caused outrage across the country

In this picture taken on October 19, 2020 police officer Shakir Hussain (C) uses his mobile's torch to light the site where the body of Marwah, a five-year-old girl who was raped and murdered, was found in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. AFP
In this picture taken on October 19, 2020 police officer Shakir Hussain (C) uses his mobile's torch to light the site where the body of Marwah, a five-year-old girl who was raped and murdered, was found in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. AFP

Prime minister Imran Khan's cabinet has approved a raft of tougher penalties for rapists, including chemical castration and hanging, following uproar after a series of high-profile sex attacks.

New punishments available to courts will include the death penalty, life imprisonment, sentences of 10 to 25 years, or chemical castration, state radio reported.

Pakistanis have been infuriated by a string of widely-reported sex attacks, which have led to demands the rapists face public execution.

Changes to the penal code will also include a wider definition of rape, the establishment of special courts for rape crimes and more protection for victims, said Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s human rights minister.

The changes were “badly needed,” she said after the announcement. The state database and registration authority will also keep a registry of sex offenders.

Ministers have said there are some 5,000 rape cases registered every year and that only one-in-20 leads to a conviction. Rights groups say the true conviction rate is even lower, pointing out that many rape cases are never brought to the attention of the police.

Many victims fear humiliation by the police, or being cast out by their communities if they come forward.

In this picture taken on October 19, 2020 police officer Shakir Hussain, who is investigating the rape and murder of five-year-old girl Marwah, speaks during an interview with AFP in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. AFP
In this picture taken on October 19, 2020 police officer Shakir Hussain, who is investigating the rape and murder of five-year-old girl Marwah, speaks during an interview with AFP in Pakistan's port city of Karachi. AFP

The rape of a stranded female motorist in front of her children on a motorway near Lahore in September raised demands that the culprits be hanged in a public square.

The woman was driving to Gujranwala when she ran out of fuel in the early hours. She called relatives for help, but before they could arrive, two robbers approached the car and dragged her and her children from the vehicle.

Mr Khan said at the time that he was in favour of public hanging, but had been told by officials that such a punishment would endanger a preferential trade status given to Pakistan by the European Union.

“The way there is first degree, second degree, third degree murder, this [rape] should be graded in the same way, and when there is first degree [rape], castrate them. Operate on them and make them unable to do this,” he said in an interview on a Pakistan news channel.

Earlier this month, the abduction and rape of a woman and her five-year-old daughter provoked a fresh wave of anger. The pair had been lured to a house with offers of work, only to be attacked by the owner and his accomplice.

The woman was later allowed to go after promising she would bring the attackers another woman. The daughter was held hostage in a cattle shed and assaulted while the attackers awaited the mother’s return.

The woman alerted the police and the attacker, identified as Rafique Malik, was caught. He was later shot dead in murky circumstances after leading police to the hideout of his accomplice.

The cabinet on Tuesday approved the new measures directly and they will not need to go before the national assembly.

“The federal cabinet has approved anti-rape ordinances which change the basic definition of rape and suggest severe punishment for gang rape and hanging of rapists,” the information minister, Shibli Faraz, told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

Saroop Ijaz, Pakistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, welcomed the expansion of the definition of rape and the setting up of courts to fast-track sexual assault cases. But he said chemical castration was a cruel and degrading punishment.

In countries that used the procedure, it was usually voluntary, and part of rehabilitation, rather than a punishment, he said. He said: "Pakistan certainly does not have the resources or capacity to keep a registry of such people or to safely administer this."

Published: November 25, 2020 08:27 PM

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