On 25 February 2016, the Provincial Assembly of Punjab passed the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill, 2015 (the “Protection Bill”).
Q. What is it?
The Protection Bill aims to make a “special provision for the protection of women”, “to protect women against violence including domestic violence, to establish a protection system for effective service delivery to women victims and to create an enabling environment to encourage and facilitate women freely to play their desired role in the society, and to provide for ancillary matters”.
Q. What is domestic violence?
Section 2 (h) defines “domestic violence” as:
the violence committed by the defendant with whom the aggrieved is living or has lived in a house when they are related to each other by consanguinity, marriage or adoption;
Section 2 (r) defines “violence” as:
any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime;
Q. What are the other key definitions of the Protection Bill?
The following definitions, in Section 2, are key:
(a) “aggrieved person” means a woman who has been subjected to violence by a defendant;
(e) “dependent child” means a child who is below the age of twelve years of age and includes any adopted, step or foster child;
(j) “house” includes a place where the aggrieved person lives in a domestic relationship irrespective of right to ownership or possession of the aggrieved person, defendant or joint family;
Q. What are the plans for implementation?
For implementation, Section 3 provides that the Government shall, amongst others:
(a) institute (establish) a universal toll free dial-in-number for the aggrieved persons;
(b) establish Protection Centres and shelter homes under a phased programme;
(c) appoint necessary staff at a Protection Centre for mediation and reconciliation between the parties, rescue, medical examination, medical and psychological treatment and legal help of the aggrieved persons and proper investigation of offences committed against aggrieved persons;
(d) raise awareness about the issues involving women and the requirements of protection and relief of the aggrieved persons.
Q. What steps should be taken to seek protection and what happens then?
1. The aggrieved person, or any other person authorized by the aggrieved, or a Women Protection Officer, appointed under Section 14 of the Protection Bill, may submit a complaint for obtaining a protection, residence or monetary order for the aggrieved.
2. The relevant court shall be (1) where the aggrieved resides or carries on business; (2) where the defendant resides and carries on business; (3) where the aggrieved and the defendant last resided together.
3. The court shall then start proceedings not more than seven (7) days of the date of receipt of the complaint by the court.
4. The defendant shall be notified to show cause (appear in court) within seven (7) days. If a defendant fails to respond within the specific time, the court shall, subject to another notice to the defendant, assume that the defendant has no plausible defense and proceed to pass such order as the court deems fit.
Q. How will the court protect the victim.
1. Protective Order: If the court is satisfied that any violence has been committed, or is likely to be committed, the court may pass a protection order in favour of the aggrieved person and direct the defendant to, inter alia, not communicate with the victim, stay away from the victim, stay at a particular distance from the victim, wear an ankle or wrist GPS tracker to track the movement of the defendant at all hours, surrender any weapons, refrain from entering the place of employment of the victim, refrain from causing or aiding or abetting any act of violence; and/or refrain from committing such acts as may be specified in the protection order.
2. Residence Order: In the event of domestic violence, the court may pass a residence order directing that, inter alia, the victim shall not be evicted from the house, the victim has the right to stay in the house, the defendant shall not sell or transfer the house to any person other than the victim, the victim may be relocated to a shelter home (established under Section 13 of the Protection Bill), and/or the victim be relocated to some alternative accommodation.
3. Monetary Order: The court may also pass a monetary order ordering the defendant to pay monetary relief to meet the expenses incurred and losses suffered by the defendant which may include, inter alia, loss of earning, medical expense, damages for destruction of property, and/or maintenance of the victim and her dependent children.
Q. Where does the aggrieved person go during proceedings?
Under Section 5 of the Protection Bill, the victim shall not be evicted from the house without her consent.
Q. What are some of the shortfalls of the Protection Bill?
Some shortfalls are:
- The offender, it appears, can only be a person who is known to the victim by consanguinity, marriage, or adoption and does not cover such relations that the victim may have to face on a day to day but do not fall within this category, such as relatives-in-law.
- The legislation only provides for domestic violence against women; whereas, men may also be victims of domestic violence.
- The stringent timelines in the Protection Bill places a heavy burden on the courts without any mechanism of assistance to the courts.
- The requirement to consistently monitor protection officers to ensure that such officers do not add to the distress and instead handle issues with care, empathy, and efficiency.
- Regular training to the toll-free number representatives to ensure that they are able to provide advice in a quick and efficient manner, respect anonymity, and are available round the clock.
- The legislation does not cover dowry and the culpability of giving or receiving the same. The analogous legislation in India, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, criminalized the offence of giving and receiving dowry.
- The need for mechanisms to ensure that this legislation is not misused, for example, verbal abuse is a wide term to report violence. Such mechanisms, though, should not be at the cost of restricting, reserving or downplaying genuine cases of violence against women and should not give too much discretion to the reporting officers.
- Custody of children should have been included in the legislation to ensure that the victim is not deprived of full right to her children.
- The legislation appears to have the limited scope of civil instead of (the more preferable) criminal law. Criminal sanctions (arrest and imprisonment) require a further offense by the accused respondent (such as violating a protection order issued under this law). This may, however, be a deliberate factor of the legislators to ensure quick and flexible relief for the victim.
Myra Khan is a Barrister-at-Law from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and (ex) Vice Chairperson Women Rights Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. She is currently practicing law in Lahore, Pakistan.
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