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IBA praises Pakistan for rape-law change
Baroness Helena Kennedy KC

19 Feb 2024 / human rights Print

IBA praises Pakistan for rape-law change

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has praised Pakistan for a legal reform that strengthens women's rights in marriage and criminalises unconsented sexual acts.

The human-rights body says that the change in the law has led to a “ground-breaking” judgement and the first conviction for marital rape in Sindh Province, on 15 January 2024.

In the case, a Karachi court convicted a man for having non-consensual sex with his wife, sentencing him to three years’ imprisonment.

The man’s wife had accused him of engaging in forced sexual acts and sodomy that constituted a violation under section 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which outlaws ‘unnatural offences’.

‘New precedent’

The IBAHRI says that, although the ruling was on the basis of ‘unnatural offences’, it sets a new precedent in prosecuting and convicting perpetrators of marital rape, particularly after legislative amendments to the PPC.

The woman’s lawyer had argued that sodomy fell within the definition of rape and marital rape after an amendment was brought to section 375 of the PPC in 2021.

The IBAHRI points out that there had not been a single case of marital rape filed or prosecuted in Pakistan before September 2018.

It describes the amendment as “a significant milestone” in the fight against sexual violence within marital relationships, and in cementing informed consent.

Law change ‘instrumental’

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC (director, IBAHRI) said: “This ruling affirms that marital rape does, in fact, exist in Pakistan, and that marriage does not mean automatic consent.”

She added that legislative changes of the kind introduced in Pakistan were “instrumental in dismantling systemic barriers and fostering a culture of gender equality”.

The IBAHRI cited figures from the non-governmental organisation (NGO) War Against Rape, which found that only 0.3% of those accused of rape in Pakistan had been convicted in the six years to 2021.

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