Justice stands still | Pakistan Today

Justice stands still

  • An urgent problem goes unaddressed

When Manto wrote Khol do and when Ahmed Raahi wrote Tirinjan, describing the plight of women in the post-partition orgy of violence, they must have hoped that their bleeding words mark the end of sexual violence. Little did they know that in our land of the pure, children of animals would not be spared, let alone the daughters of Eve.

Last month, news from Lahore of a 15-year-old boy and his friends gangraping a kitten to death hit the media, to popular dismay and shock. The teenagers raped the young feline for a whole week, so much so that the lining between her genitals and anal canal were completely eroded until the two orifices merged into a single, fistulated external opening. The kitten suffered unimaginable pain, hemorrhage and internal trauma to the point where she could not sleep, stand or sit up, ultimately succumbing to death.

In Pakistan, 80 percent of the children live in rural areas and the school drop-out rate is the second highest in the world, according to UNICEF statistics. With 49 percent of the total population under the age of 18 and 24 percent living below the poverty line, these children need to be reintegrated into schools and vocational training centres. Social ecologists believe that wherever there is poverty concentration and children have ‘nothing-to-lose’, they are more likely to commit crimes for fulfilment of natural desires, since the benefit outweighs the risk. The media also needs to play its role; mass sensualization and commodification of sex shouldn’t be the only way to sell goods, marketing personnel can definitely do better. Lastly, the criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies need to be more receptive; in the end, it is not the severity of punishment, rather, the certainty of punishment and swift disposal of justice that matters.

In a parallel thought-bubble, two completely unrelated cases come to mind. One of Rani Tanveer, the child-bride who was falsely accused of murdering her husband at the age of 13, serving 19 long years in jail. After her release, she filed a petition in the court for compensation from the state for miscarriage of justice. The court, in an iconic move of magnanimous generosity that would make Hatim Al-Tai blush in his grave, granted her an ‘apology’, stating that, “this court feels helpless in compensating her”. Destitute and penniless, Rani quotes that she was better off in the jail, where she had the privilege of a meal three times a day.

The other case is that of Iqbal Hussein. Having been arrested for alleged homicide at the age of 17, Iqbal was brutally tortured, sentenced to death, and served 22-years in prison awaiting response to his mercy appeal to the President, until he was finally released in a landmark judgement by the Lahore High Court.

What’s common among all these cases? Miles and a generation apart, the accused were minors at the time of commission of crime. To put things into perspective, Pakistan is a signatory of th United Nations Convention on Rights of Child (UNCRC 1989), Riyadh Guidelines and Beijing Rules. Following international standards, Pakistan adopted the Juvenile Justice System Act (JJSA) 2018. At home and worldwide, the justice system for children under 18 years of age is reformatory and rehabilitative instead of punitive, marking a fundamental shift from the adult criminal justice system.

It is fascinating how Pakistan always manages to be on extremes of the spectrum when it comes to administering criminal justice. On one hand, we have cases like Rani and Iqbal who were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment and death, respectively. On the other hand, cases of juvenile delinquency and juvenile-on-juvenile violence of sexual nature are surging unprecedently. Criminals are most likely to plead ‘juvenile’ in order to avail bail and protections conferred upon them under JJSA 2018, no matter how heinous the crime might be. In the recent rape case of a minor by a teenager, Peshawar High Court judge Justice Qaiser Khan quoted, “Of late, such (unnatural sexual) offenses have attained alarming proportions and in such cases the accused are mostly found to be juveniles.” He ruled that juvenility is no license for commission of crimes of this scale. It is a very welcome and balanced precedent set by the Peshawar High Court.

Bestiality and rape by juveniles in Pakistan surely raise eyebrows but invoke no surprise. Every now and then, cases of raping chickens, dogs, sheep and donkeys to the point of death, and of fellow minors of younger age, surface in the news but are quickly forgotten. Predictably, most of such offences are committed in far-flung rural areas, going largely unreported. Yet again, this proves beyond a shadow of doubt that rape isn’t due to provocation on victim’s part; rape is a culture.

In his renowned and oft-quoted Differential Association Theory, Edwin Sutherland, father of American criminology, explicitly states that “crime is a learned behaviour” which is a by-product of interactions with pro-crime values and criminal sub-cultures. Similarly, Gresham Sykes and David Matza in their Neutralization Theory state that the “subterranean value structure” of society, meaning that actions that are condemned publicly but admired privately, plays a role in fostering juvenile delinquency.

In a society where rape is weaponized, the boisterous display of masculinity is akin to wielding a trophy, shame harbors the effigy of victim and certainty of punishment is close to null, what else can be expected? The kitten rapists of today would be the beasts of tomorrow.

Whereas cases like that of Rani and Iqbal should have been investigated expediently and having failed to give them justice once, compensation should have been offered whole-heartedly; cases of juvenile sexual offences should be dealt with extreme caution. We cannot supersede the rights of one child just because the perpetrator is a juvenile as well. Similarly, the rights of animals cannot be encroached upon merely to protect the rights of our deviant children, by any code of law or religion. In fact, gauging the special conditions, judges reserve the right to transfer juveniles for trial to the adult courts under a ‘judicial waiver’. Animal rights groups must step up in this regard, and adequate legislation and law enforcement must be sought now that juvenile bestiality is rampant in Pakistan.

Moreover, measures to alleviate criminal tendencies among minors must also be devised. This requires a multi-dimensional shift mostly in our rural and sub-urban culture. For starters, ulema must be mobilized for imparting decent sex education among the minors, given the considerable influence that clergy wields in rural communities as well as the fact that the only school most of our children go to is a local mosque. Something should also be done about the slums of rural haaris and quarters of the suburban industrial labour, where whole families are crowded into a single room, offering the man and wife no luxury of maintaining intimate relations in privacy.

In Pakistan, 80 percent of the children live in rural areas and the school drop-out rate is the second highest in the world, according to UNICEF statistics. With 49 percent of the total population under the age of 18 and 24 percent living below the poverty line, these children need to be reintegrated into schools and vocational training centres. Social ecologists believe that wherever there is poverty concentration and children have ‘nothing-to-lose’, they are more likely to commit crimes for fulfilment of natural desires, since the benefit outweighs the risk. The media also needs to play its role; mass sensualization and commodification of sex shouldn’t be the only way to sell goods, marketing personnel can definitely do better. Lastly, the criminal justice system and law enforcement agencies need to be more receptive; in the end, it is not the severity of punishment, rather, the certainty of punishment and swift disposal of justice that matters.

The writer is a doctor and a prize-winning author.



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