'Rape cases hang on MLO examinationsÂ' -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

‘Rape cases hang on MLO examinationsÂ’

MLOs inundated with thousands of cases

KARACHI: A rapist will not introduce himself before violating you. This is why, according to MPA Humaira Alwani, “You have to get the evidence to speak for the survivor and deliver them justice.”

Alwani was referring to the crucial role played by medico-legal officers, who are responsible for gathering evidence in the shape of examinations of rape survivors. The problem is that 70 per cent of cases of violence against women do not even get registered. Over 250 cases a year are registered at the three main government hospitals, said Alwani, calling for a separate legislation for rape. Stressing the importance of timely justice in such cases, she said that the onus of collecting evidence to easily convict the accused was on the MLOs.

“The need for properly documented medical investigations is crucial in cases of rape, gang rape and sexual assault,” said the director for War Against Rape (WAR) Sarah Zaman at a press conference at a local hotel on Thursday.

One major problem, according to Zaman, is the consent box being signed by the victim after the examination is conducted.

Adviser Sharmila Farooqi stressed the need to create a more efficient and timely system to register, examine, investigate and deliver justice to rape, sexual assault and violence survivors. Farooqi came down hard on the police’s lack of sensitivity in such cases as well as the desperate need for more women in the police force as well as MLOs.

There were over 8,548 reported cases of violence against women in 2009, of which 928 cases were of rape and gang rape while 274 were of sexual assault. Depressingly, however, the conviction rate stands at just about four per cent, but Farooqi said she doubted the figures, claiming it was probably below one per cent. Speaking on the lack of facilities for DNA testing that makes the medico-legal procedure more difficult, Farooqi said evidence was sent to Islamabad and it was usually six months before results, if received at all, were sent back.

Mutthahida Qaumi Movement MPA Zareen Majeed said: “If the government was fulfilling its task we wouldn’t still be here talking about these things,” she said, “clearly we need to work harder.”

Soorat Thebo of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said the war was not just against rape but against corruption as well. “Sometimes it is an open-and-shut case but because the accused enjoys the support of an influential local leader then a conviction is highly, highly unlikely.” Adding that it was not just the police’s vigilance and sensitivity which was in question, Thebo said but so was the state’s failure to promote and pass crucial legislation and ensure its implementation.

Defending his profession and colleagues, Dr Kaleem Sheikh, a senior MLO, said no one in society was perfect. Stressing that a “delay in justice is to deny justice,” he elaborated on the number of limitations faced by the MLOs. This included a lack of facilities, limited staff and their time being demand in court as well. “We do not get paid by lawyers to go to court. Rather we go on our own expense and time this means a further backlog of an already huge pile of pending cases,” he claimed. Also the MLO is not just confined to rape and sexual assault cases, their services are also used for burn victims, emergency patients as well as other routine cases, Sheikh said. According to WAR MLOs dealt with 10,000 cases alone last year.
Source: The Express Tribune