Centralization of rape cases to CHK add to woes -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Centralization of rape cases to CHK add to woes

Karachi: The recent centralization of the medico-legal department at Civil Hospital, where rape cases from all over the city are now being referred, has not only added to the suffering of the victims but also increased the workload of women medico-legal officers who deal with these cases.

As it is, rape victims face insurmountable obstacles in seeking justice. From reporting the matter to the police to the medico-legal examination and then prolonged court trials, the traumatized victim must follow the entire procedure to bring her case to court. The move to centralize rape cases has only made things harder.

This decision was taken by Police Surgeon Dr. Bashir Shaikh when he took charge a few months back. According to him, since Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center (JPMC) works under the federal government and Civil Hospital under the provincial government, it was decided that rape cases if reported after 24 hours of the incident, should be referred to the Civil Hospital.

There are legal angles to this move which remain to be sorted. For one, the notification was not issued in writing, inform doctors at the Civil Hospital. “We did not receive any notification in writing and were just informed one morning that we would have to deal with all the rape cases reported, whether they fall in our hospital’s jurisdiction or not,” said a Women Medico-legal officer (WMLO) at the Civil Hospital.

Despite being well aware of the fact that the two WMLOs currently employed at the hospital were insufficient to handle all the cases and put up with the workload, the Police Surgeon did not consult the doctors, they complain.

Although there are nine government hospitals each consisting of a medico-legal department, only the three major centers at JPMC, Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and Civil Hospital are functional. They handle cases of murder, sodomy, domestic violence, assault and postmortem. There are two WMLOs in each hospital but only the doctors at Civil Hospital are authorized to handle rape cases.

“The designated government hospital cannot be easily accessible to those coming from far areas. I think the burden should have been divided as it was earlier instead of referring all the cases to Civil Hospital with just one doctor to handle them. And under the poor condition we are functioning, I think it is totally unfair,” says Dr Zakia Khursheed, a WMLO at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

Dr. Liaquat Ali Memon, Additional Police Surgeon at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital insisted that the fresh cases of rape (within 24 hours of the incident) were still handled at Abbasi Hospital. But on inquiring about the recent cases his department had handled, Dr. Memon was unable to name any. On the other hand, Dr. Rohina Hasan at the Civil Hospital produced five medico-legal certificates of the reported rape cases from January to April 2007.

This is one of many problems faced by the department. The lack of facilities is also a cause of resentment among the female doctors. They unanimously agree that due to budget constraints, they have to operate under miserable conditions.

A research study on medico legal sector by Aahung, an NGO, also revealed disturbing facts. According to their comprehensive research in the medico legal sector of the nine government hospitals, there was a shortage of essential equipment such as magnifying glass, swabs, disposable gloves, measuring scale, glass slides etc. “Although the examination is free we have to ask the patient to purchase a glass slide so we can perform the examination. It is quite embarrassing but we have no choice, the hospital does not provide us with the necessary equipment,” revealed a WMLO.

As observed by this correspondent during a visit to one of the local hospitals, there is no examination light to conduct a proper vaginal or anal examination for the verification of rape, external bruises or internal injuries. “In the absence of power we do not have stand by generators either and because it gets dark in the examination room, we sometimes have to shift the victim from one room to another where there is proper lighting. This turmoil is even more torturous for the patient, who is already in a shocked state of mind,” said one doctor.

After the examination, the samples are sent to the chemical examiner who conducts a forensic analysis and prepares a certificate which is later used as evidence in the court proceedings. “The report is meticulously prepared because once a copy is given to the investigation officer and the chemical examiner, no alteration can be made in the content,” explains Dr. Rohina. However, a final medico-legal certificate cannot be issued until the forensic data has been analysed. This process often takes up to several weeks due to the absence of a DNA analyser in any of the government hospitals.

A DNA analyzer is necessary for identifying bomb blast/sexual assault (semen identification), paternity test, blood grouping and homicide and keeping in mind the frequent occurrence of crime in the city, it is essential that the provincial government provides at least one analyser in a local hospital.

“The analyser is vital for the identification of a person, whether living or dead. In Karachi only some private hospitals are equipped with analysers. We have to send samples to a local hospital in Lahore which takes several weeks and ultimately results in delayed court proceedings,” said a forensic expert, requesting anonymity.

There are also times when the age of a minor rape victim is not known, in which case the MLO has to prepare her age certificate first. It is because the doctors are overworked that they are unable to handle each case with proper care. “We are trying our best but it is a stressful job. The hours are long and then we do not have a weekly off either. We even have to come on public holidays,” complains a WMLO.

There is no resident psychologist or psychiatrist for the counseling of rape victims either. When asked about the indifferent attitude of fresh medical graduates to join the medico-legal department, Dr Kishwar Sultana, Associate professor Department of Forensic Medicine at Karachi Medical and Dental College explained that due to the intimidating cultural attitude at the courts and police stations as well as late working hours at the hospital, young graduates abstain from joining the department.

“We are trying our best and are willing to provide training to more female doctors but only if they come forward. We cannot force them. Until that happens, we have no choice but to work in this crisis situation,” said Dr. Bashir Shaikh.

Some teachers also believe that the divide between academia and medical experts after the centralization of one of the renowned local medical universities has resulted in a lack of communication between the government and medical universities who also provide training to students in the medico-legal sector. Hence what is needed is a better coordination, they said.
Source: The News
Date:5/19/2007