Need to spare women embarrassing medico-legal process stressed
KARACHI: Speakers at a seminar on Thursday stressed the need to sensitise police, medico-legal personnel, lawyers and members of the lower judiciary to gender sensitivity so that women could come forward and report cases of violence, particularly of sexual nature, and the culprits were punished.
Addressing a seminar on “rape and medico-legal response” organised by the War Against Rape (WAR), they said that currently because of the hostile attitudes of family, relatives, society and a biased mindset among the investigating, health and prosecuting organisations, such cases were not properly presented in courts and the accused in a majority of cases got the benefit of the doubt and were acquitted.
They said that because of these reasons between 60 and 70 per cent of the rape / sexual assault cases were not reported and the conviction rate in the reported cases was around four per cent which could not act as a deterrent to the culprits who feel safe in the current situation and continue with their nefarious activities.
According to the data regarding Karachi during 2009 presented in the seminar, around 60 per cent of all cases of violence against women were the cases of sexual assault (rape / gang rape).
The number of medico-legal examination conducted and the number of FIRs registered since the year 2007 were 275 and 85 (in 2007); 335 and 90 (2008); 229 and 68 (2009) and 136 and 37 (till June 2010), respectively.
The age group of rape victims ranged from four years to 65 years with the 38 per cent of the victims belonging to 18-23 years of age group; 17 per cent to 12-17 years of age group and 16 per cent to 6-11 years of age group.
According to the data presented in the seminar, a woman is rape / gang raped every 2 hours in Punjab while 3.3 children are sexually abused per day in the country in 2009.
Sindh Chief Minister’s Adviser Sharmila Farooqui said that a workable women-friendly system where quick registration, proper investigation and prosecution leading to conviction of culprits needed to be developed so that women could feel safe and secure in the society.
She said that women medico-legal officials should be posted in all major government hospitals.
She said that the government wanted to recruit policewomen but very few females were ready to join the force and many vacancies were still vacant. DNA testing facilities should be made available in the city and should be done at the state’s cost, she added.
MPA Humara Alwani (PPP) said that discriminatory laws, including the Hudood Ordinance, needed to be reviewed or repealed, MLOs having high integrity should be posted and rape cases be disposed of within a few months on the pattern of Khula cases as because of the lengthy litigation the victims, majority of whom were poor and vulnerable, did not pursue the case and subsequently the accused were acquitted.
She said that the punishment for rape should be made more severe.
A public prosecutor, Abdul Maroof, said that the medico-legal certificates did not give comprehensive details and contained incomplete information and the investigation carried out by police was also not up to the mark owing to which the accused got benefit of the doubt and got acquitted.
He said that conviction rate in rape cases was just 4 per cent.
Stressing on the importance of the DNA testing, he said that owing to it a rapist who had ran away after committing the crime in New York was arrested from Nazimabad.
He said that medical evidence was very necessary particularly in a rape case.
Referring to the questions asked from the victims by the defence lawyers, he also suggested that in camera trials be conducted for rape cases as was done in neighbouring India.
Dr Kaleem Shaikh, an MLO at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, stressed that victims should come for examination as soon as possible as with the passage of time evidence was lost.
He said that forensic labs were not updated and were obsolete.
He said that a private hospital on Stadium Road had the facility to carry out DNA testing and it did carry out the tests, but did not give reports that could be presented in courts.
He said that MLOs did not have any security and occasionally faced threats. He said that at present there were five female MLOs in the city, but there was no separate facility for lady doctors where they could carry out examination.
Dr Aisha Mehnaz said that because of insensitive MLOs, sometimes the rape victims were more traumatised during the examinations.
She stressed that female MLOs should be posted.
She said that sometimes the MLOs were coerced and they gave reports under pressure which could be political, administrative, social, monitory, etc.
Sarah Zaman of the WAR said that rape victims, or in case of a minor their parents or guardians, be first informed of the examination procedure which should be conducted after getting their consent.
She said that the current medico-legal certificates (MLCs) did not contain comprehensive information even the MLCs issued by the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and those issued by the JPMC were different.
She said that the WAR had developed a specimen form / certificate having columns for more details that would be submitted with the health department and if accepted, it could be more helpful in evidence collection and could improve reporting. She said that uniform documentation standards should be adopted through out the province.
Zareen Majeed of the MQM, Mehnaz Rehman of the Aurat Foundation, Mohammad Irfan from an NGO Sanjog, Sorath Thebo of the Muslim League, and others also spoke at the seminar conducted by Khalida Qadri.