Violence In Pakistan
(Talal Raza, Lahore)

Violence can be defined as:

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• The expression of physical or verbal force against self or other, compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt.

• An aggressive behavior where the actor or perpetrator uses his or her own body as an object (including a weapon) to inflict (relatively serious) injury or discomfort upon an individual.

• The act of hurting self or others physically or psychologically through verbal or physical abuse resulting in the injury, death or psychological pressure on the individual affected y it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes a broader definition of violence:

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, or deprivation.


Violence is not a phenomenon specific to any one part of the world. This practice is prevalent across the globe and continues to persist as one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world. Each year, over 1.6 million people worldwide lose their lives to violence. Violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females. For every person who dies as a result of violence, many more are injured and suffer from a range of physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health problems. Moreover, violence places a massive burden on national economies, costing countries billions of US dollars each year in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity.
Violence has many shapes, forms and its consequences in every society. It may in some society in the form of customary practices or it may be an outcome of unnecessary pressures on individuals of the society e.g. in the Indian sub-continent many people (mostly women) had been and still being victimized by violent cultural practices like sati in India, Wanni,marriage with Quran and honor killings etc in Pakistan. On the other hand , suicide attacks is one of the most latest forms of violence we can observe which according to critics can be an outcome of social injustice and negligence one faces during some years of life.
As we are concerned with Gender issues, our glance will be more focused on forms and consequences of gender based violence.

Gender based Violence (GBV)

Gender-based violence can be defined as:

“Violence involving men and women, in which the female is usually the victim and which arises from unequal power relationships between men and women”.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW):

The term gender-based violence (GBV) is used to distinguish violence that targets individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of their gender from other forms of violence. It includes any act which results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm. GBV includes violent acts such as rape, torture, mutilation, sexual slavery, forced impregnation and murder. It also defines threats of these acts as a form of violence.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a major public health and human rights problem throughout the world. It is prevalent in rich and poor countries, in rural and urban areas, in situations of conflict and in peace, and in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Whenever around the globe we are talking about gender based violence, usually the discussion is based more on highlighting violence against women as it is believed that worst forms of violence by men against women can be noted in every society. According to statistical data from UN, nearly 5000 women are killed in the world every year only in the name of ‘honor’. Globally, at least one in three women and girls face some kind of violence in her lifetime. World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health notes that “one of the most common forms of violence against women is that performed by a husband or male partner”.

Gender based violence is not only observable in third world countries like Pakistan but also in developed countries like USA. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in US, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year. Also in 2005, 1181 women were killed by their intimate partners in US.

Gender based Violence in many of the developing countries might not be seen as violence rather as a cultural practice and normal part of their life. Usually the violent behavior of males specially husbands towards their female members especially wives goes unreported as it is done behind closed doors and we may find females never complaining of it.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Pakistan

Pakistan is not a country who has not seen gender based violence on the land. Thousands of individuals particularly women have been victimized by gender based violence. In the patriarchal society of Pakistan, women who make up 56% of the total population bear the brunt of poor governance, social and economic systems and feudalism. They face many forms of violence like rape, gang rape, forced marriages, acid throwing, stove burning, customary practices of Karo Kari and Wanni, domestic violence, sexual harassment at workplace, honor killings etc but has remained to be of no importance for judiciary of Pakistan, particularly the lower judiciary where even cases demanding immediate justice for the victim remain pending for months and years and even some people withdraw cases in the mean time because of the threats they receive from the opponent accused party. This thing, instead of uprooting violence from the society, has given oxygen to elements who keep on assaulting women. According to an estimate, during the last ten years, 73913 cases of violence against women had been reported. In 2008, according Dawn newspapaer, 7773 cases of violence against women were reported. Only in the early six months of year 2009, the cases that were reported went upto 4514.

Forms of Gender Based Violence in Pakistan:

Following is the gender based form of violence, we can observe in Pakistan:

• Murder
• Acid throwing
• Forced Marriages
• Rape/ Gang Rape
• Abduction or kidnapping
• Domestic torture (by in laws and relatives)
• Custodial Violence
• Sexual Harassment

1. Murder

Murder can be defined in legal terms as “an act of killing persons unlawfully with intention”. Murder is regarded as one of the harshest forms of violence and also exists in big significant numbers. According to Federal Bureau of Statistics, Government of Pakistan, during the year, 1998-2007, 96708 cases of murder were reported whereas 123396 cases of attempted murder were reported. According to another statistical data, people are murdered at the rate of almost 12000 per total population each year in Pakistan. . Like many countries, the constitution of Pakistan suggests from life imprisonment to death penalty for the accused found guilty but the culprits often seem to remain at large if they have links with the influential people.

In Pakistan, people are murdered for many reasons, like in revenge by opponent parties, for political reasons, over tribal and domestic disputes. There is another horrific root cause of murder which has consumed the lives of many people. That is murder in the name of ‘honor’.

Honor killings:

In this form of brutal murder, women are mostly the victims. In all the four provinces, honor killings have different names like Kalakali in Punjab, Karokari in Sindh, Siyakaari in Baluchistan and taurtoora in NWFP. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) in Pakistan, every year, 1000 women are killed only in the name of honor. For many people specially in rural and backward areas, it is a violence which may not be violence rather an act by ‘men’ to protect the honor of their family which according to their perceptions, give them full liberty to kill their wives if they doubt they have illicit relations with someone else and also kill their daughters and sisters who marry someone after their own heart and going against their family’s consent so that they could teach them and other female members a ‘lesson’. Also in such forms of violence, men are also victimized to some extent but the ratio of women is greater than that of men.
The practices of honor killings are more common in rural areas because most of such practices take place with consent of the landlords who have close ties with law enforcement agencies and the alleged are often at large. The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a law for controlling this practice in 2004 however the statistics show such practices are still carried out.


In Pakistan, according to statistics from Human Rights and Legal Committee of Supreme court Bar Association, during period from 1998 to 2008, 7480 cases of this practice were reported. The Federal Minister of Interior to Senate in July, 2004 presented figures according to which from 1998-2003, 3451 women and 2774 men fell a victim to such heinous practice. In 2008, according to News reports, 472 cases of honor killings were reported out of which 200 were reported only in Sindh. In early six months of 2009, 293 cases of honor killings were reported throughout the country.

Some Press News:

Following are some of the reports taken from various newspapers that reports killings in the name of honor.

• In 2008, five incidents were reported in which sons killed their mothers in the pretext of moral corruption.

• On March 7, 2008, a 17 year old married girl Tasleem Solangi, accused without any proof of immorality, was thrown in front of the hungry dogs and then shot dead after being declared Kari by Jirga in Khairpur district of Sindh. Some reports claim that she was eight month pregnant. Reports also claim that this incident took place with the consent of District Nazim.

• In news, in Ahmed Bhangwar village, in Sindh, Samia 17 and Nadeem 18 were shot dead by Samia’s uncle Bhangwar who got infuriated when he saw niece talking to servant Nadeem.

2. Acid Throwing

Acid throwing is another brutal form of violence that we can see in Pakistan .In this, perpetrators of these attacks throw acid on the victim usually on their faces which not only disfigures their face, burn tissues of their body but also expose their bones and even dissolve them. The consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and the body. Mostly the women are victim of these attacks. According to an estimate, up to 400 women fall victim to acid attacks perpetrated by their husbands or in-laws each year in Pakistan.

Reports have shown some reasons behind such brutal incidents. Usually, acid throwing attacks have been used as a form of revenge for refusal of sexual advances, proposals of marriage and demands for dowry. Property disputes are also one of the causes of such incidents.

Even though not all acid throwing cases are reported, an even lesser number of acid burn victims are provided any justice. Belonging to poor or marginalized fringes of the society, most acid survivors can hardly afford the cost of their own healing and are thus fated to continue suffering, lest the handful of relevant organizations succeed in reaching out to them. The victim is faced with physical challenges, which require long term surgical treatment, as well as psychological challenges, which require in-depth intervention from psychologists and counsellors at each stage of physical recovery.

Depression and anxiety are common amongst all patients with large burn injuries; however for victims with acid injuries, the physical scarring can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment, resulting in the survivor living a life in hiding due to fear of prejudice and stigma from their peers and the community.
Recently, Chief justice directed the government to do legislation on the rising incidents of acid throwing to control this situation. Various reports suggest that under this legislation, the culprit could be sentenced from life imprisonment to death along with heavy fine.


According to a survey, from May 2004 to May 2006, in 14 Districts of Punjab, 65 acid attacks were reported In 2008, 24 cases of acid throwing were reported. In 2009, 27 cases were reported only in the first six months with 21 of them occurring only in Punjab.

Some Press News:

• In May 2008, two women in Lahore received severe burn injuries when they were attacked with acid. Samar Noman and Naghmana Bibi were standing outside a school, where Samar was picking up her child, when Amir rode by an accompliance on a motorbike and threw acid on them. Amir’s proposal to marry Samar had been rejected by her parents. (Source: HRCP Annual Report).

• According to another report, Sajjad Ahmed, Khuda Baksh and Ahmed alias Doda threw acid on Rabia and her mother Pathani. Both sustained serious burns while Rabia lost her two eyes as well. (Source: Dawn).

• Nasira Bibi of Khairpur District received acid injuries. Her husband and his brother cut off her nose and threw acid on her face over domestic quarrel. (Source: Daily Times).

3. Forced Marriages

In Pakistan, many young girls/women are forced into wed-lock against their consent. Although, the Islamic laws give full liberty to women to marry after her own heart but this fact remains to be quite far from people who are only Muslims by name. In urban areas of Pakistan, marriages take place with girls’ consent but it is in the backward areas where the problem lies. Despite the aforementioned Act, the tradition is still practiced in some areas through Vanni and Watta Satta. .

Watta Satta:

Watta satta is a tribal custom in Pakistan of exchanging brides between two families. At the time of marriage, both families trade brides. That is, both families must have a daughter and a son and be willing to betroth them to a daughter and son of the other family. For example, in order for one to marry off his son, he must also have a daughter to marry off in return to the same family.

Watta Satta is a practice more common in rural areas than in Urban areas of Pakistan. In a survey carried out in 2004, in 178 villages of Punjab and Sindh, almost 92% marriages took place as a result of this practice. In some of the cases, the pair for marriage was of uncle and neice and the girl was of very young age.

Majority of people regard Watta Satta as custom but it becomes violence against women when they are married off at the age although they should be imparted education. The constitution of Pakistan explains this by saying that no boy under 18 or a girl under 16 should be married.


Vanni is an indigenous means of alternative dispute resolution mechanism in which disputes (often resulting from murders) are resolved by the traditional peace keeping institutions without having to invest time and money in lengthy judicial processes. The price of this dispute settlement is paid in the form of women/girls from the family of the aggressor who enter the house of the bereaved family by way of unceremonious wedlock, to remind the aggressors of the injustice their men bestowed upon the bereaved family. The Vanni could be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet. Otherwise the young bride may spend her life paying for the crime of her male relatives.

It is a practice carried out in rural areas where Jirga system is quite strong. In such practices, news reports have shown the children given in marriage to old aged persons.


According to report by Human Rights and Legal Committee by Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan, 945 cases of Vanni were reported during the year 1999-2009. According to various news resources in 2008, 56 cases of Vanni were reported. However, no significant figures for 2009 have been made in the press releases. But, according to Dawn Newspaper, 6 cases of Vanni were reported in Punjab during period January to May.

In 2006, Vanni and Watta was regarded as crime in a bill passed by National Assembly which has provided the legal protection to women but the figures show more need to be done to ensure the protection in ground reality.

Some Press News:

These practices are carried out in rural areas so not many news reports reach to media. Some of them taken from news are:

• A five year girl was married in Mardan as Swara/ wanni and the local police was unable to register a case against the accused( Source: Daily times, April 25, 2006)

• Parents of three women, Naheed, Khatoon Bibi and Aalim Khatoon, had given their hands to boys of their rival group in compensation for a murder committed in 1964 whose hearing was done in front of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary in 2006. ( Dawn September 22, 2006)

4. Rape/Gang Rape:

Fourth form of violence is rape that we see in Islamic State of Pakistan. Often, young girls and women are victims of gender-based rape in our society. Talking about rape cases against women, often, jirgas and panchayits had been found giving verdicts where people of victim’s party were ordered to rape the female members of accused. Also, in many other cases it has been found that women are raped in revenge for seeking divorce, refusing marriage proposals, marrying of their own choice, defying cultural norms and for many other efforts at independent decision making. We can also call rape an advanced stage of sexual harassment. In some cases, it is found that fake aalims and pirs were accused of rape that fooled people of getting away with evil spirits.

In some of rape cases, a gang or group of people is involved as perpetrator and a single individual is the victim. Also the victim is murdered in some rape cases


According to reports from news papers, during the period 2007-2009, 7,546 cases of rape were reported giving an average of 314 rape cases per month. Only in the year 2009, 2497 rape cases were reported out of which 1959 in Punjab, 221 in Sindh, 118 in NWFP, 27 in Baluchistan, 56 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 106 in ICT, 10 in Northern Areas.

Some Press News:

• A young girl (20) was deprived of her one leg during an operation in Mayo Hospital to save her life after she got brutally wounded while thwarting a rape attempt.( April 13, 2009. Source: The Nation)

• In another case, an MPA and advisor to Chief Minister Punjab was accused of raping a woman in Lahore on June 1, 2009. (June 3, 2009. Source: The Nation).

• Lubano, a resident of district Ubaro, was raped by two men, Abdul Sattar and Mohammed Anwer Hussain, on January 27, 2007. Later on, she was taken to a courtyard where nine other people abused her and physically humiliated her.(May 16,2009. Source: The News).

5. Abduction or Kidnapping:

Kidnapping means “to take away a person against his will or consent by use of force and fraud and keeping the person in false imprisonment without any legal authority either for ransom or for other criminal activity”. The word abduction is also same in meaning but in legal terms, abduction refers to women’s kidnap.
Talking in the context of gender based violence, usually males and most of times young aged men are abducted or kidnapped for ransom, however in many other cases, abduction is done for other criminal purposes like demanding government or state authority to release the kidnapper’s companions being arrested in various interrogations or at local level to force others to meet their demands in return for the person being kidnapped. In cases of women, they are more abducted for attempted rapes or even in revenge if the proposal for marriage is rejected.

With the rise of insurgency, the kidnapping has taken another reason which demands people to follow their perspectives of life rather than allowing them to live according to an individual’s own standards. Some reports suggest that men and even women were kidnapped to teach them a lesson and to force them to lead life according to Islam.

In Pakistan, this form of violence exists in significant numbers


According to Bureau of statistics, Government of Pakistan, 84,265 cases of kidnapping for Ransom were reported during 1998-2007. According to Aurat Foundation, 1762 cases of abduction of women were reported across the country in 2008 and from the figures of 2009; reports from media and NGOs suggest that only in Punjab, 5624 women were kidnapped.

Some Press News:

• Taliban in Northern areas were involved in kidnapping school girls where they were sent to mountains and forcibly married with talibs.(Source: Pakistan Spectator)

• During Swat operation in IDP camps, girls were kidnapped by satans and sold to brothels. (Pakistan Spectator).

• In Karachi, Ali Zafar, the singer was kidnapped on gunpoint by a person in his own car along with his fiancee. Later he was released after paying ransom. ( Source :Nawaiwaqt)

6. Domestic torture (By in laws and Relatives)

Domestic torture and abuse is a widespread issue in Pakistan and victims include women belonging to all sections of society. They are beaten, mutilated and even burnt by their relatives often on quite petty issues. Often the women in houses are less aware of their rights and that is why they do not think that this is infact, violence against them or even if they can understand that they do not have so much strength in their voices to raise them against the male chauvinist approach.


According to Aurat Founation, 300 cases of torture were reported in 2008 while in early six months 2009, 320 cases were reported in 2009

Some Press News:

• In January 2008, woman was killed by his husband on refusal to give him tea (Source: HRCP Annual Report).

• In October 2008, a man shaved off his wife’s head on a household dispute and sent her to her parents. (Source: Dawn)

• In June 2008, a 24 year old girl was burnt to death by her husband and in-laws who sprinkled petrol on her and set her on fire.

In her report, a woman from Gujranwala was attacked by her in laws for marrying after her own choice. Shabana’s nose was cut by her mother in law and four brothers in law while her husband was not at home.

7. Custodial Violence:

Custodial violence has also proved one of the brutal forms of injustice. It has not only affected the person accused but also his family. In many of the cases police has subjected the accused under severe torture for two reasons: To force the person to confess about the criminal act and to show efficiency in investigation or to extort bribery.

Some reports suggest that the person is not genuinely guilty or supposed to be guilty but to file a fake case against him subjected him to torture. Also, in some reports it has been found that if the person accused in a crime could not be arrested, police in support of influential people has arrested his relatives and detained them for many several days so that the accused could hand over him to police despite our law under which relatives of accused cannot be detained.
Women have also bore the brunt of custodial violence. There are cases that were being raped under custody by police officials. But the sad fact is that 95% of custodial violence reports against women go unreported.


According to the previous reports of Madadgaar Helpline Database, within nine years from January 2000 to June 2008 there were 9364 cases of police torture. Out of total 231 cases were reported in 2000, 555 in 2001, 996 in 2002, 838 in 2003, 1260 in 2004, 1356 in 2005, 1662 in 2006, 1723 in 2007 while 743 cases were reported in 2008. According to report, 7425 males and 1250 females were the victim of police torture during these nine years.

According to Daily Times, 695 cases of police torture were reported in early six months of 2009 in which 278 males and 198 females were affected.

Some press News:

• In November 2008, according to annual report of HRCP, the Executive District officer of Health Dr. Abdul Jalil Bachani Ministry (brother of provincial leader of PPP) was abducted by dacoits in Hyderabad. The police chased the dacoits and killed one in encounter. The police identified Haji Wakil among Dacoits. The next night, police raided his home town and arrested eight children and four women because of the immense pressure on provincial government to catch the offenders. The women and children were detained for 16 days and were fed on only one meal per day.

• In another case, a person Mubarik Ali was tortured in police custody for one month. The victim lost his ability to see and was released after being proved innocent ( Source: Aaj News).

• A woman , who was accused in a case was tortured raped by five police men in custody (Source: HRCP Annual report)

8. Sexual Harassment:

Sexual harassment is defined as

“any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or to make it a condition for employment.”

In Pakistan, sexual harassment is on rise. All women who face harassment suffer adverse effects, and according to some estimates, almost 80 to 90 percent of women face some sort of harassment in public places, educational sectors and in the workplace. Among the most common forms of harassment in Pakistan are the discomforting gazes that follow a woman wherever she goes, as soon as she sets foot outside her home.

The dynamics of harassment at the workplace take on special significance considering the amount of time an adult spends at the workplace and the spillover effects on career growth, worker productivity. Media reports suggest that there has come up many issues regarding sexual harassment in various working sectors but the authority could not take serious action against the person accused because of lack of policies on sexual harassment.

The National Assembly did approve a bill against sexual harassment on August 4, 2009 which was to be ratified after approval from Senate in November but no importance was given and had to be withdrawn automatically since it could not be approved by Senate.

A Survey by AASHA

According to media reports in 2007, a survey was carried out by the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment at Workplaces (AASHA), a group of NGOs which works to root out harassment of women. AASHA interviewed nurses, domestic workers, women employees of private and public organizations and salesgirls at plazas and malls.

According to this survey, a staggering 78.38 % of working women had faced sexual harassment at work, while 21 % chose not to talk about the topic.

The organization, said the incidence of emotional and physical stress, including stress-related illnesses, were on the rise among such women.

Of the nurses interviewed, 58 % aged between 16 and 21 said they had faced sexual harassment by co-workers, patients or relatives of patients and doctors, the survey revealed. Only 11 % of the nurses denied harassment and 29 % refused to talk about it.

According to the survey, the nurses were exposed to unwelcome physical advances and sexual innuendos on a routine basis. In some cases, the offenders showed disgraceful and insulting behavior towards them. However, the incidents were usually hushed up or blocked by the interference of other staff members who held a grudge against the victim, the survey said.

A large number of the women employed in the private and public sector were also routinely harassed by their bosses or senior colleagues, so were sales girls employed in up market plazas and malls. Domestic workers too were found to be victims of sexual harassment by influential families. 91 % of domestic workers aged between 14 and 30 said they had faced some abuse at the hands of their employers. Nine per cent did not want to share their experiences.

The domestic helps were sexually harassed and even raped by their bosses or their relatives and friends. Some were even sold to strangers for a night, it said.
Women students waiting at bus stops often have to put up with lewd remarks, the survey said.

These are some prominent forms of violence that we see in Pakistan and Pakistani Media.

NGOs in Pakistan

In Pakistan, different NGOs are working to prevent and uproot the forms of violence from the Pakistani Society. They not only protect the victims, address their issues, help them raise their voices for justice and also bring awareness among the masses of Pakistani society against violence. Some of NGOs that are working include Madadgaar, UNHRCP, Aurat Foundation, ASAR, Shirkat Gaah and Acids Survivor Foundation Pakistan.

Since majority of the cases of domestic violence take place against women and to protect them male chauvinist society.


Giving a brief overview the study, I can say that majority of brutal forms who have developed their roots in Pakistan is because of lack of proper legislation and implementation. Even if the laws are there, the law enforcement agencies are always protecting their dear ones which will only give rise to more and more cases as we can see from the figures.

The need of the hour is that we develop such mechanisms in judiciary and law enforcement agencies that ensure speedy justice for the victims and strict punishments for the perpetrators. Not only that the media could also play an important role in highlighting the speedy mechanisms thereafter to send a strong message to public about the punishments the culprits receive on violent criminal acts. Also, the NGOs should organize seminars on monthly basis to bring awareness to public about the brutal forms of violence. Only then we can hope to counter the situation.