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Pakistan Legal United Society: A ray of hope

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Repeated episodes of rape and child abuse in last few years have disturbed the entire civil society of Pakistan. In past, such unfortunate incidents largely remained unreported owing to many reasons. The stigmatization of rape victims is a major reason for the underreporting of such cases of rape and gender-based violence. Victims of rape are too afraid to speak up as they believe that not only that they will not get justice but also fear facing lifelong humiliation by their families, communities, and law enforcement.
Pakistan ranks 147th out of the 182 countries that have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Pakistan’s consistently poor ranking in the survey proves that “policymakers and state machinery in Pakistan have utterly ignored welfare and rights of children and women.
In 2015, Pakistan was rocked by the sexual assault scandals when at least 280 children under the age of 14 in villages in eastern Punjab Province had been subjected to sexual abuse by a gang of 15 men, who made videos to extort money from the children and their parents. These sexual assault cases in the country called for national reckoning and stirred the government and civil society. With the sensitization and awareness, these cases have started emerging in media. However, still victims are being treated as criminals or blamed for the assaults. Indifferent and callous attitude of society discourages women to come forward and seek justice.
This is why rape culture in Pakistan is systemic. It is reinforced at every level, from blaming women for ‘getting themselves raped’ to subject to humiliation in courts and police stations. In these circumstances, it is very difficult for a rape victim to get their case registered and then fight a battle in courts especially those who have no connections and financially living below the poverty lines. One ought to appreciate the success of the civil society and NGOs’ movement that has carved a path for creating laws that are women inclusive and sensitizing media. Many hope that this will encourage more victims of rape and violence to come forward in an attempt to apprehend culprits and expose them in society.
Among these organizations, an NGO Pakistan Legal United Society has emerged as a savior for a minor rape victim in Dadhu, Eastern Sindh. A 3-year old girl was out in the streets to play, when an 18 year old male grabbed her and raped her inside his home. When her aunt started looking for her she was not present where her aunt left her. Eventually, the search party reached a house where they heard screaming. A sense of terror went through the people as they forced their way in and found out that their worst nightmare had turned into reality. A 3 year old little girl was subjected to rape and the assailant was present, unclothed. He managed to escape the people’s grasp. The survivor was immediately rushed to Dadhu Civil Hospital for treatment. She was battling for her life and was in critical condition. Her aunt made her way to the local police station and lodged an FIR against the accused. Fir no. 15/2021 and case no. 23/2021 was assigned in the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) of Naushahro Feroze.
Upon learning of this incident, the legal team at Pakistan Legal United Society (PLUS) volunteered to represent the survivor in her fight for justice. They were determined to provide justice to the victim of a heinous crime of extreme proportions. That’s’ why their team started a mass social media campaign to raise awareness among the masses regarding the case which eventually involved other major non-governmental organizations. The outcry has gone to such an extent that the Chief Justice of Sindh High Court also took notice of the crime which further strengthened the credibility of the case. Social media campaign for justice also caused the case to be filed in an ATC court as opposed to a regular court. For the complainant, such a massive campaign was something they could have dreamed of, but it was very true and the entire credit goes to the dedicated team of PLUS.
The team of lawyers was very confident that justice will be served. The team has handled a variety of cases, working in 20 districts of Sindh. Those cases include women victimization, family, domestic violence and a whole host of other cases but most importantly, rape cases. Countless cases have been fought, especially for rape and the verdict has been in favor of the survivors.
The accused has been taken to trial and is currently behind bars. Here is strong hope for that the assailant will be put in prison for years as the entire documentary and medical evidence is in favor of the complainant. However, the trauma that a little 3 year old faced is something that will never leave her, both physical and mental. The best that can be done for her is to fight her case for her to ensure justice is served so that the message across the board is loud and clear; “No to Child Abuse; No to Sexual violence”.
Pakistan Legal United Society (PLUS) is a non-governmental organization established with the aim of legal empowerment and access to justice for all underserved segments of the society. The organization was established in 2020 and started its operations in Karachi, Sindh. PLUS aims to legally empower people, especially vulnerable communities, through pro-bono services which include providing legal information/education/awareness-raising, counseling, facilitation, accompaniment, referrals, documentation assistance, navigating authorities, mediation, negotiation, legal advice, and representation in court. In its short time, PLUS has successfully taken on projects by the Sindh Government and many other NGOs along with collaboration with minority rights organizations. PLUS took pro-bono 350 cases of varying types in its first year including but not limited to child marriage, forced conversion, family law, harassment and women victimization with a 50% disposal rate and provide legal awareness to more than two thousand needy people. That also free of cost.
In a year, since its formation in 2020, PLUS has covered many milestones under the dynamic leadership of veteran Advocate Altaf Hussain Khoso. He is the Chairman of Pakistan Legal United Society (PLUS) and Advocate High court. He is a Qualified Trainer for Paralegal Trainings by OSI Trainers 2015, and also a Qualified Trainer for Paralegal Trainings by 10th GAJE from Bandung, Indonesia 2019. Through his career, he has worked as an Executive Director at Syed Sami Shah Law Firm. He is the litigation Manager of committee for the welfare of prisoner’s in all over Sindh. He also worked as a Legal trainer and a legal advisor. Advocate Khoso has also participated in the various International law conferences which include: Worldwide conference and delivering a presentation on the fundamental rights of prisoners and the Criminal Justice System of Pakistan. International Conference on the criminal justice system. Asia Pro-Bono conference at The Kathmandu, Nepal.
Elaborating on the subject, Altaf Khoso said “if you would look at our penal code laws, rape is a crime in Pakistan, one that carries a 25-year prison sentence and in some cases extends to the death penalty. However, if you would ask any survivor, who has been through the system and she would tell you how poorly it is handled by the authorities, which work more towards harassing and victimizing the rape victims than the criminals, the rapists. The victim not only faces mental trauma, but has to deal with immense societal backlash which begins with immediate families and extends to entire community. They routinely face harassment and blame game when they try to report rape, which is why most choose not to”.
It is important to mention here that, the conviction rate for rapists in Pakistan is barely two per cent, and this only pertains to cases that are reported, which are a fraction of those that occur. Here, the fact remains that something is not seen as a crime until it is treated as a crime and that can only happen when it is routinely punished.
“We can and should have a deeper discussion on what the optimum punishment for rape ought to be but that won’t solve our current predicament. What matters is active enforcement of that punishment across the Pakistan and then only we would see it as a crime instead of normalizing the crime or rape,” chairman PLUS, Altaf Khoso added.