Marital rape

An issue that remains undocumented, undiscussed in Pakistan

Marital rape remains a taboo subject. The traditional belief says that it is a private matter between husband and a wife and hence it is mostly brushed under the carpet and never emerges as a serious point of discussion.

“Marital rape” is a concept that is often regarded as a western-induced-idea that threatens to weaken the marital bond and create feelings of detachment between a husband a wife. It is presumed that as western society believes in a more liberal relationship between spouses, it is more likely to be prevalent in such a society that supports the say of both individuals strictly in a relationship.

Rights activists insist that it is quite unfortunate that despite creating serious hurdles between peaceful bonding of a husband and a wife, marital rape has not been criminalized in Pakistan yet and no specific law is present that properly governs its ruling.

According to a study reported based on 152 cases, it was found that approximately 33-43 percent of married woman endured marital rape in Pakistan during the year 2009. Marital rape is regarded as “domestic violence” so its original statistics do not become evident to the public and most of its cases go unreported due to it being a “private matter.”

What actually is marital rape? Marital rape, also known as spousal rape, is the act of sexual intercourse with one’s spouse without the spouse’s consent. Nowadays, marital rape is treated under the category of “domestic violence” as it directly involves coercion and absence of consent of one’s partner. Since no proper definition of “marital rape” is present and made available to the public, the description of “marital rape” is found nowhere except the term “rape” itself that also gives vague meanings of its description.

According to a study reported based on 152 cases, it was found that approximately 33-43 percent of married woman endured marital rape in Pakistan during the year 2009.

Considering such ambiguous legal arrangements of this issue, it becomes difficult to criminalize the very practice that remains unresolvable in nature and exacerbates in society potentially. In 2006, a bill was introduced for the protection of women that redefined rape as “sex without a woman’s consent.” This practice did make marital rape an offensive and punishable crime, but there was no specific mentioning of “marriage” in the change.

Sara Malkani, a high court lawyer in Pakistan showed her concerns against marital rape and said that there were “no known convictions on grounds of marital rape” in Pakistan. The officials’ complaint are non-existing and “even if a complaint is filed, the case does not go to trial,” she said.

When the legal authorities and the agencies dealing with the matter remain clueless about the nature and cause of the issue and how to resolve it due to lack of guidance and proper information, they will abuse the available evidence to the best interest of the perpetrators and might show reluctance to resolve it. This is, perhaps, one of the major reasons why Pakistan remains in 36 countries in the world that are yet to explicitly criminalize marital rape.

Another reason that makes this issue more complicated and less handling is the irresponsible attitude of religious ulemas and clerics who have failed to give proper counselling on this subject to people due to which they have created their own interpretations of the matter in their minds.

Haroon Ghazi, a right-wing Islamic cleric in Pakistan, said, “signing the marriage covenant in and itself established consent” to sex. However, he was of the opinion that a man should abstain from beating his wife as that is considered immoral and sinful in Islam.

Since the issue is perceived as an “absolute private matter” of the husband and a wife, most men regard it un-Islamic and impractical to consider it as a “criminal act.”

A marital rape survivor in Karachi was questioned about her filing of divorce against her husband. She said that her husband would involve religion every time he would demand sex. “My husband would tell me that the angels would curse me for denying him(sex),” she said.

“He would say if I pleased him in bed [that] I would go to heaven directly, and if he was angry with me, no matter what I did, I would go to hell”, she further explained.

Observers say marital rape can only be criminalized in Pakistan when it stops being a taboo subject and gets a proper legal placement in Pakistan Penal Code with complete definition covering all aspects. This will not only make it mandatory for the authorities to abide by the law but also raise the gravity of issue as creating a strong disturbance in the society.

Moreover, activists insist, the practice should not be considered as a “pure spousal matter” as it then makes it a taboo subject which further jeopardizes its resolution. Both men and women should be educated on the matter at hand and act maturely in understanding the position of each other. Unlike other cases of rape, marital rapes exist in abundance that can only be limited if it is legally handled under the control of concerned authorities.

Mehmil Khalid Kunwar
Mehmil Khalid Kunwar
The writer is a polymer engineer with a profound interest in politics. She works on social issues and gender bias. She can be reached on Twitter @mehmilkhalid

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