A top Pakistani religious council responsible for advising the government to ensure that laws conform with Islam has ruled a new law criminalizing violence against women “un-Islamic.”
Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan, passed the Women’s Protection Act last week. The law is the first of its kind and is intended to protect women from domestic, psychological and sexual abuse. The legislation will also create women’s shelters and a hotline for women to call in order to report crimes. That is, of course, if of course if the law gets by the Council of Islamic Ideology.
“The whole law is wrong,” said Muhammad Khan Sherani, head of the council, during a news conference. Sherani cited verses from the Koran to back up his claim that the law is “un-Islamic.”
According to its website, “the Council of Islamic Ideology is a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam, namely to the Koran and Sunna.” The Sunna is the verbal record of the practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The council has a history of highly controversial decisions. It defended child marriages in 2014, claiming that girls as young as nine years-old are eligible for marriage. Sherani claimed that any laws in Pakistan defining the age when a girl should be allowed to marry should be repealed. The council also rejected the use of DNA testing in 2013 as a primary source of evidence in cases of rape.
Life for women in Pakistan can often be harsh and even deadly. It has been reported that as many as nine women are killed in the country each day in what are referred to as “honor crimes.” Cases of rape often go unreported due to the difficulty involved in securing successful prosecution of an offender.
In one particularly brutal case, a woman from a village in Punjab was sexually assaulted by as many as 14 men in 2002. Though she survived, her attempts to seek justice and prosecute her attackers took nine years. All but one were acquitted. The case drew international attention, however, she was not allowed to leave Pakistan out of concerns she would flee to the west and attempt to profit from her assault.
“Every year some 2,900 women are raped in Pakistan, almost eight a day,” said Ayesha Hassan, a journalist who covers the issue, to Deutsche Welle.
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