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Pakistan’s first ‘Violence Against Women Center’ inaugurated in Multan

Pakistan’s first most advanced, computerized and completely female-run Violence Against Women Center (VAWC) has been established in Multan as part of the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence (PPWAV) Act enacted in Punjab Assembly in early 2016. The Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif has inaugurated the newly-built center to protect women’s rights.

The models of such centers are available in United States, United Kingdom, Greece and some European countries under the title of Women’s Crisis Center. The University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Law Clinic has helped to prepare the first draft of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Women Protection Act, officials say.

“The PPWAV Act and the establishment of the VAWC aim to protect women from physical, emotional and psychological abuse, and promote gender equality. A shelter home will be constructed adjoining the Multan VAWC. Three new centers will be established at the end of the current fiscal year. One of the centers is set to be established in Lahore”, officials say.

The Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has developed a complaint management system, database to assist the center. The system enable to record all complaints and automating the process of providing information and receiving relevant assistance from the concerned departments including the Police, Forensics, Medico-Legal, Law, Social Welfare and Prosecution. All the data from VAWC will be maintained at the PITB data center in Lahore.

Over 552 women violence incidents have been reported in a report compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Special Task Force Multan during 12 months of year 2016. The report compiles violence incidents take place in eleven districts of southern Punjab in Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Divisions.

Rights activists expect a change after the establishment of Violence Against Women Center in Multan, which will be the nucleus against women violence.

“Now the situation has changed compared to the past when women go to the police station they are told to go back to their home and accept the violence in the absence of law on violence against women”,  Shaista Bokhari says. She is unofficial member of VAWC Multan district Women Protection Committee and the Executive Director of Women’s Rights Association.

The HRCP has reported 91 women killed in the name of honor from January to December 2016. The numbers of 57 women killed on different reasons. 480 women sexually assaulted and 535 women kidnapped. 184 women committed suicide due to domestic reasons and 43 women victimized in acid throwing incidents.

“The Punjab DIG Investigation Branch report in 2013 says  at least 6 women are murdered or attempted to be murdered, 8 raped, 11 battered and assaulted, and 32 women are abducted in the province on a daily basis, while the conviction rate ranges from only 1pc to 2.5pc”, police officials observe.

Multan City Police Officer Ehsan Younis says staff including women police posted at VAWC has been equipped with gender sensitivity and initial software trainings including real time key-stroke monitoring software integrates different sections at VAWC.

“The center aims at improving the criminal justice system in the country. The center is  also responsible for collection of forensic and other evidence, besides offering mental health and counseling services, and post-trauma rehabilitation under one roof, to increase complainants’ access to justice”, CPO Ehsan Younis says.

The prime objective of the VAWC is streamlining speedy justice delivery process for women and all services to women including First Aid, FIR lodging, prosecution, medical examination, forensics, post-trauma rehabilitation and shelter home for female victims have been provided under one single roof. Free legal services have also been provided to victims, Shaista Bokhari says.

“It is a good initative by the government but it needs more autonomy and authority of District Women Protection Committee members. The role of DWPC members is not clear in Women Protection Act. All powers circle around Deputy Commissioner”, HRCP Coordinator Faisal Tangwani says.

The VAWC system also includes measures to prevent data forgery and tampering; there will be an activity, and time log section that will note down the IP address, username and time at which the existing information was changed and or when new information was added.

“The Violence Against Women Centers should free from bureaucratic red tape to achieve desired goals. The journalists should be given representation in VAWC committees to get up-to-date information on occurrence of violence incidents and highlighting those cases in press and media”, SPO Multan Regional Head Jam Jamshid says.

Police have key role in providing speedy justice to violence victim females. The Punjab police have recruited separate female staff and the post of DIG Gender Crimes has been newly created. A female SP will also be placed in each VAWC. The department is launching a toll-free helpline to receive complaints from distressed women and introducing GPS ankle monitors to enforce protection orders.

“We have 28 members ladies police force including two inspectors, two ASIs, three Head Constables and 21 ladies constables and they are fully vigilant and active”, VAWC supervisory officer DSP Shahida Nasreen says. .

Two female prosecutors have been hired to represent the women at the VAWC and there will be a forensics expert on ground at the center as well. The expert will be present at crime scenes in order to collect evidence based on standard guidelines so that it is preserved. The involvement of forensics at a sub-divisional level is a big improvement to the existing system which has been criticized for being inefficient in the timely acquisition and preservation of evidence.

“We deal both violence cases registered with respective police stations and complaints directly receive at VAQC Women Police Station. The newly established VAWC is fully relief oriented and women can confidently explain their miseries. Two ladies prosecutors have been appointed at VAWC and soon a judge would be appointed for court trials. The prosecution links up through internet with the rest of police network”, VAWC Women police station incharge inspector Nimreen Munir says.

Shaista Bokhari says there is a dire need to spread awareness about the rights of women.

“It is a pity that laws in favor of women are passed in the parliament but common women were unaware of these laws and thus could not initiate legal proceedings against the inhumane torture and violence inflicted upon them.

She observes it is essential for sustainable development that the women should be onboard and they must enjoy the same opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life. They must have ability to control their own lives according to their own wishes. But in South Punjab the women are living in miserable conditions and they are visible marginalized group.

Shah. Nadeem, Pakistan’s first ‘Violence Against Women Center’ inaugurated in Multan. The News, March 29, 2017.

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