Sexual harassment is deeply stigmatized in Pakistani culture. Close friends and even family often discourage victims from reporting harassment due to the fear of damaging their family honor. Those who do speak out to demand justice are often demoralized and blamed; police rarely take sexual harassment allegations seriously, and abusers often censor victims with defamation lawsuits. Despite the loud silence, however, roughly 20 to 30 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered from some sort of abuse, according to a study conducted by the Human Rights Watch in 2009. Although feminists (who many disregard as “Western influencers”) have urged for broader legal services, it was only after the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab Ansari that widespread support erupted. The #MeToo movement gained traction, and women demanded change and justice for victims. Abusers began to surface, among them Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan.
As the social structure of Pakistan changes, it is crucial to learn the laws that can protect yourself and others from sexual harassment. These laws target workplace, public, and cyber harassment⎯the most common forms of abuse⎯and outline dangerous situations that should be recognized immediately.
Laws against Public Harassment
Under Section 509, Pakistan Penal Code 1860,
If someone labels any woman, utters any disrespectful words, or is offensive by their gestures, then they are liable to three years in prison, a fine, or both.
If someone demands sexual favors and causes fear, irritation, or harm, then they are liable to three years in prison, a fine, or both.
If someone makes a false accusation of adultery against someone else, then they are liable to five years in prison and a fine.
Under Section 510, Pakistan Penal Code 1860, if a drunk person publicly causes any annoyance to someone, then they can be punished with imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Under Section 354 A of Pakistan Penal Code 1860, if someone assaults another person and exposes them to public view, then they are liable to a death sentence or imprisonment for life with a fine.
Under Section 294, Pakistan Penal Code 1860, if someone uses any indecent or vulgar language in public with the intention to offend, then they are liable to three years in jail and a fine.
Under Section 377 B, Pakistan Penal Code 1860, if someone commits sexual abuse, then they are liable to life-time imprisonment, a fine of at least 500,000 rupees (about 3,000 USD), or both.
Laws against Workplace Harassment
Section 3 of the statute requires all organizations to form a committee that addresses complaints regarding workplace harassment. The committee should comprise of three members with at least one female member.
Anyone who makes unwelcome sexual advances or requests sexual favors that harm work performance or create a hostile work environment can be liable to minor or major penalties (Section 2H).
Laws against Cyber Harassment
Under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016), anyone
who uses information to harm another person or their reputation is liable to three years in prison, a fine, or both.
who posts information to blackmail someone else or generate hatred for them is liable to five years in prison and/or a fine of five million rupees (about 68,000 USD).
who harasses or stalks another person online with the knowledge that the victim has not given consent is liable to imprisonment and/or a fine.
who takes the victim’s pictures or videos and displays them on the internet to harm the victim is liable to three years in prison, a heavy fine, or both.
Laws against Minor Abuse
According to Section 366A, Pakistan Penal Code 1860, if a girl under the age of 18 is forced to perform sexual intercourse, the offender is liable to 10 years in prison and a fine.
Section 292 A, Pakistan Penal Code 1860 states that whoever seduces a child to perform any sexual activity or whoever exposes a child to sexually explicit content can face up to seven years in jail and/or a fine of 100,000-500,000 rupees.
There is always room for improvement in legislation to ensure safety for women and everyday citizens. For instance, Pakistan’s current workplace harassment laws don’t include protection for women in contract-based work environments, where they are employed for only a specified amount of time. Additionally, most women and minors are unaware of these laws that can provide protection against harassment. With the new wave of feminism and with collective effort from Pakistanis and people worldwide, however, women can finally receive the equal rights that they’ve been deprived of for over a millennium.
By: Zarnab Tufail
“Employers in Pakistan Committed to Implement Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010.” GBV, gbv.itcilo.org/index.php/case_study/show/id/22.html.
Islam, Mahnoor. “Anti-Harassment Laws in Pakistan.” Courting The Law, 16 June 2019, courtingthelaw.com/2019/06/10/commentary/anti-harassment-laws-in-pakistan/
“Me Too Movement (Pakistan).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement_(Pakistan).
“Pakistan Penal Code.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan_Penal_Code.
“Pakistan: National Assembly Passes New Cybercrime Law.” Library of Congress, 21 Sept. 2016, www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/pakistan-national-assembly-passes-new-cybercrime-law/.