There has been a long-standing debate that how heinous crimes like murder, rape, sexual molestation, felonious assault, etc could be withheld and prevented to form an illusionary crime-free society.
The proponents of a crime-free society keep on proposing countless precautionary as well as preventive measures on the subject in discussion. For instance, Pakistan has been witnessing frequent cases of child sexual abuse across the country, especially from 2018 onwards, when Zainab Ansari rape and murder case instigated resentment both at the national and international levels. As a result of such heinous child rape and murder incident, few hold an opinion to start announcing death sentences to sex offenders as an exemplary punishment to build deterrence against abuse crimes. While the rest of them offered a counter practice of strengthening legislative & judicial bodies for the effective implementation of the laws that have been previously passed with an aim to protect the victim, by means of passing landmark judgments to grant immediate justice to the victim’s near and dear ones.
The nation witnessed that main culprit, named Imran Ali, was hanged to death as demanded by the public at large. Unfortunately, it did not last here, and since then police stations kept on reporting nationwide similar crimes. It implies that the first approach to prevent child sexual abuse through granting exemplary punishments is unable to meet the need of the hour. It ultimately shifts the burden on second approach of pronouncing such judgments that can hold the legislator, executive, and judiciary itself responsible to head off sexual abuse through the rule of law. It is pertinent to mention here that in 2016 and subsequently in 2018 two criminal law amendments were passed, titled “the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2016 and Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2018” that criminalized sexual abuse and inflicted 14 to 20 years of imprisonment along with a specified amount of fine worth one million rupees.
Though, the criminal law amendments are entitled to appreciation, however; the implementation of any law in Pakistan is a real battle to counter. Most of the laws lack application due to poor implementing strategies, complicated processes of presenting and proving the case before reliable forums, and delayed delivery of justice. Impressively, a recent Supreme Court judgment “2020 S C M R 50 ZAHID versus the STATE” has proved all these facts wrong and placed an “unprecedented” precedent for the trial courts to follow, while evaluating evidence, recording witnesses’ statements, and granting of immediate relief to the victim and its family. Despite the material facts of the case, let’s dive deep into the legal principles settled by the apex court in the said judgement;
- The supreme court, reappraisal of the evidence, especially the testimony of the victim, aged 7 seven, in isolation. The entire prosecution case was hinged upon the testimonies of the seven years old victim and her mother, who proved to be the eyewitness in the same case and the savior of her child. The court held that despite the tender age of the victim, her statement depicted the highest level of maturity and touched upon the contents of the crime report. Furthermore, the court did not question the identity of the accused due to the fact of being the neighbor of the victim.
- With reference to the non-availability of signs of injury on the victim’s body, the medical evidence was of no help either for the accused, as the prosecution narrated its case on clearer grounds of non-violent sexual assault committed by the accused against the victim. It signifies the crucial role of prosecution while formulating and presenting a distinct report of the occurrence that could facilitate a reasonable and factual delivery of justice.
- Another, issue was vigilantly addressed by the apex body regarding 22 hours delay in lodging FIR. It was stated that such delay is not material in cases of sexual abuse due to the prompt trauma faced by the victim and their family members. In most cases, it held a perception of shame and dishonor in reporting the incident and examination of the victim by the doctors. Overall, the stance of the court regarding this issue implies that social pressure, mental trauma, and a factor of dishonor/shame usually faced by the family members should not be another hindrance for the victim to prove his/her case.
Undoubtedly, the overall framing of issues by the apex court, appraisal of evidence, and consideration of the sufferings of the victim and her family members are commendable in nature. However, the delivery of justice through such judgments cannot stand in isolation. It always requires support from the prosecution, the victim, and the family of the victim itself. On the other end, exemplary punishments can spread fear among the masses for some time, but it cannot be the ultimate solution to the problem. To achieve the idea of a crime-free society, the dispersion of justice needs to be firm and bold. It all leads to a strong set-up for the implementation of the laws and a victim-friendly process for fighting the case before justice delivery forums.
Conclusively, we may build some consensus that judgments passed by judicial forums stand at a much more positive side of the scale to pull off a crime-free society than announcing exemplary punishments. Still, a crime-free society is an illusion and will stay an illusion for most of us in the nearest future.
The author is LLB graduate and practicing litigation in Islamabad, Pakistan. Previously, she served as Legislative Associate & Researcher at Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, National Assembly of Pakistan. The author has deep interest in women & children rights pertaining to digital, and social matters. The author can be approached via this email email@example.com.