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Beginning of the End for ‘Virginity Exams’ in Pakistan?

Ban Degrading, Unscientific, Abusive Test

The Lahore High Court, in Lahore, Pakistan. © WikiMedia

Last week, Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice recommended that the so-called “two-finger test” – invasive and medically meaningless vaginal exams imposed upon women and girls to determine whether they are virgins – should not be part of any criminal investigation.

Putting an end to this abusive practice is long overdue. The government will now present its recommendation to the Lahore High Court, which is hearing public interest petitions filed by lawyers, academics, civil society activists, and a member of parliament who joined forces to argue the test is disrespectful, inhumane, and violates fundamental rights.

Virginity examinations” have long been a routine part of criminal proceedings in Pakistan. They are based on the unscientific and misogynist assumption that a woman “habituated to sexual intercourse” is less likely to have been raped. Police and prosecutors in Pakistan have used these tests to accuse rape victims of illegal sexual intercourse and treat them as criminals.

These invasive examinations are humiliating and conducted without meaningful – or sometimes any – consent. The procedure itself can constitute sexual assault. “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity,” according to guidelines issued by the World Health Organization in 2014.

“Virginity tests” have also been recognized internationally as a violation of human rights, particularly the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 16 of the Convention against Torture, both of which Pakistan has ratified.

The Ministry of Law and Justice has said “virginity tests” are in violation of article 14 of the Pakistan Constitution, which guarantees human dignity and the right to privacy.

Banning “virginity exams” should be part of broader reform to end abuses against women by the criminal justice system. The first step toward overcoming deeply entrenched gender inequality in state institutions like the police and judiciary is to end this cruel practice now.

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