Women in Pakistan face the threat of multiple forms of violence, including sexual violence by family members, strangers, and state agents; domestic abuse, including spousal murder and being burned, disfigured with acid, beaten, and threatened; ritual honor killings; and custodial abuse and torture. In its annual report for 1997, the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported,"The worst victims were women of the poor and middle classes. Their resourcelessness not only made them the primary target of the police and the criminals, it also rendered them more vulnerable to oppressive customs and mores inside homes and outside."38
The most endemic form of violence faced by women is violence in the home.39 For 1997, HRCP reported that "[d]omestic violence remained a pervasive phenomenon. The supremacy of the male and subordination of the female assumed to be part of the culture and even to have sanction of the religion made violence by one against the other in a variety of its forms an accepted and pervasive feature of domestic life."40 A United Nations report on women echoes this point, explaining the nature of domestic violence generally in terms of the structure of the family:
Comprehensive studies on domestic violence indicate that domestic violence is a structural rather than causal problem. It is the structure of the family that leads to or legitimizes the acts, emotions or phenomenon that are identified as the "causes" of domestic violence under the causal analysis. This family structure is a "structure that is mirrored and confirmed in the structure of society, which condones the oppression of women and tolerates male violence as one of the instruments in the perpetuation of this power balance."41
Estimates of the percentage of women who experience domestic violence in Pakistan range from 70 to upwards of 90 percent.42 According to HRCP, "[T]he extreme forms it took included driving a woman to suicide or engineering an `accident' (frequently the bursting of a kitchen stove) to cause her death . . . usually . . . when the husband, often in collaboration with his side of the family, felt that the dower or other gifts he had expected from his in-laws in consequence of the marriage were not forthcoming, or/and he wanted to marry again, or he expected an inheritance from the death of his wife."43 During 1997, the Lahore press reported an average of more than four local cases of women being burnt weekly, three of the four fatally.44 Police follow-up on these cases was negligible, with only six suspects taken into custody out of the 215 cases reported in Lahore newspapers during the year.45 In 1997, there was not a single conviction in a "stove-death" case in the country.46 The Lahore press also reported 265 homicides against women in the local area resulting from other forms of intrafamily violence. In the majority of cases, husbands and in-laws were responsible for the murders, while in other cases the perpetrators were brothers and fathers.47
Honor killings are another recurrent form of familial violence against women, and again the perpetrators continue to find vindication in the eyes of both the law and society. The practice of summary killing of a woman suspected of an illicit liaison, known as karo kari in Sindh and Balochistan, is known to occur in all parts of the country.48 The Sindh government has reported an annual figure of 300 for such killings.49 HRCP's own findings reveal that in 1997 there wereeighty-six karo kari killings in Larkana, Sindh, alone, with fifty-three of the victims being women.50
Sexual assault is also alarmingly common in Pakistan. HRCP estimated that in 1997 at least eight women, more than half of them minors, were raped every twenty-four hours nationwide.51 The high incidence of sexual assault in the country is partly fostered by the societal subordination of women to men, by the custom of avenging oneself upon one's enemies by raping their women, who are seen as repositories of family honor, and by the impunity with which these crimes are carried out.
There is no question that violence against women is an enormous problem in Pakistan that is exacerbated and perpetuated by the government's inadequate response to the problem. In fact, the state's response to domestic violence in Pakistan is so minimal and cases of intrafamily violence are so rarely addressed in any way by the criminal justice system that it was not possible for us to achieve one of our research goals for this report: that is, to track specific domestic violence criminal suits in order to identify larger patterns in the prosecution of domestic violence. We found that despite the staggering levels of intrafamily violence against women, it is widely perceived by the law enforcement system and society at large as a private family matter, not subject to government intervention let alone criminal sanction. At present there is virtually no prosecution of crimes of assault and battery when perpetrated by male family members against women; even intrafamily murder and attempted murder rarely are prosecuted.52 Consequently, much of this report deals almost exclusively with identifiable trends in the state response to non-familial sexual assault.
This report evaluates the different elements of the state's total failure to provide protection and effective remedies to women victims of violence. It takes a comprehensive look at the way the criminal justice system deals with cases of violence against women, focusing on the interaction between the police and legal establishments and the medicolegal system. Often overlooked, the maintenance of an efficient and responsive medicolegal system is a crucial part of the state's responsibility to ensure that survivors of assault have an effective remedy and that perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice. The current procedures for obtaining medical evidence in assault cases, particularly in cases of sexual assault of women, are woefully inadequate, neither ensuring that perpetrators are convicted norproviding women with appropriate treatment. Other barriers encountered by women victims of violence who attempt to navigate the criminal justice system include inveterate and widespread bias against them and their cases, official incompetence and corruption at all levels, systemic lack of professionalism and administrative inefficiency.