Pakistan’s lower house of parliament approved changes to the country’s punitive rape laws yesterday. Currently, rape in Pakistan is tried under Islamic law outlined in the Hudood Ordinances. A rape victim must produce four male witnesses to the crime, and if she is unable to prove her case, she is charged with adultery, which is punishable by death or flogging. The new legislation, called the Womens Protection bill, would allow a judge to decide whether to try rape cases under the Hudood Ordinances or Pakistans civil code, and it permits the use of forensic and circumstantial evidence in determining guilt, the New York Times reports. The amendments also outlaw sex with girls under 16 and reduce the sentence for consensual sex outside of marriage from death or flogging to five years in jail or a 10,000 rupees ($165) fine.
The changes must still be approved by the Senate, which is expected, and by President General Pervez Musharraf. In September, similar legislation was proposed, but never approved by the government. President Musharraf seems supportive of the legislation, saying, “I have taken a firm decision to change these unjust rape laws as it was necessary to amend them to protect women,” according to AP. The new proposals, however, have created a large schism within the legislature. According to the New York Times, Islamic fundamentalists boycotted the vote, and some have threatened to resign from parliament if the bill takes effect.
Local and international activists have been calling for a reform of Pakistans rape laws, especially after the 2002 gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai. A tribal council in a rural area of Pakistan ordered the gang rape of Mai after she approached the council in hopes of settling a dispute involving the kidnapping of her younger brother and his affair with a woman of a higher caste. Mai has become a womens rights activist, posting a blog and establishing two schools, in addition to speaking out about her experiences in Pakistan.