ISLAMABAD: A day after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called for public hanging or chemical castration of convicted rapists, legal experts and human rights activists said on Tuesday that authorities should instead focus on strengthening the justice system to halt a rising tide of sexual violence in the country.
Khan’s call for tougher punishment came amid nationwide outrage over the gang rape of a woman in Punjab province last week.
The victim was attacked after her car ran out of petrol early on Thursday on a national highway while she was driving from Lahore to Gujranwala with her children.
The incident sparked anger across Pakistan, where rape cases remain vastly underreported, with the prime minister telling a television program on Monday that he would like convicted rapists to be publicly executed or chemically castrated.
However, rights activists said the punishments would be a “diversion from the real issue.”
“In most countries that allow chemical castration, these are only carried out in a regulated manner against perpetrators of child sexual abuse, and in consultation with doctors and psychologists,” Reema Omer, legal adviser for the South Asia International Commission of Jurists, told Arab News.
Punishment is “often voluntary and a condition for offenders to get parole,” she said.
“The objective is rehabilitation and to avoid repeat offenses. It is not viewed as exemplary punishment for all kinds of sexual offenses, which appears to be what the prime minister is suggesting,” she added.
Rape is a serious criminal offense in Pakistan, with punishment ranging from a minimum of 10 years in prison to death.
Official data on the number of rape cases is unavailable, though experts estimate it could be in the thousands each year.
Omer said that every time an incident of rape is reported, there is public outrage and an “erroneous focus” on increasing the sentence.
“Even the most severe penalty won’t deter such crimes if perpetrators know there is less than 5 percent chance they will be convicted,” she said.
If Pakistan legalizes chemical castration of rapists, it will join a small group of nations that allow such punishment, including Indonesia, Poland, Russia and Estonia, as well as some states in the US.
In 2011, South Korea became the first Asian country to allow chemical castration as a punishment for rape.
The procedure involves using a drug to reduce testosterone levels and lower the sex drive.
Sarah Zaman, a director at War Against Rape, a non-government organization based in Karachi, said that the crime is rampant in Pakistan due to systematic flaws to hold culprits accountable.
“Instead of increasing the punishments, we need to defeat the culture that encourages such crimes,” she told Arab News.
Zaman urged the government to strengthen the criminal justice system to increase the conviction rate in rape cases from the current 4 percent and to ensure “timely justice.”
Reacting to the prime minister’s call for rapists to be hanged, she said: “It’s ignorant and short-sighted, and it won’t help reduce the problem.”
Dr. Qibla Ayaz, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, said the group had urged the government to establish special courts for serious crimes, including rape.
“Sufficient laws and strict punishments regarding rape already exist. We need to ensure their implementation,” he told Arab News.
Maliha Zia Lari, a human rights activist and lawyer, said the government should focus on the “certainty of punishment” through reforms in the criminal justice system instead of diverting the debate by making “irrelevant statements.”
“We need to understand that rape is a power offense and not a lust crime,” she told Arab News.
“Unfortunately, this is embedded in our society. We need to change the patriarchal mindset to curb sexual violence against women.”