14 July, 2006
By Farzana Shah
While the nation owed its gratitude unlimited to President Musharraf for the ordinance issued by him on July 7 regarding the release of women prisoners other than those involved in murder and terrorism and which ordinance was being regarded as one of the most significant steps towards the implementation of the human rights and the amelioration of women in the country, some doubt has been expressed by the legal minds that the real objective of this ordinance might not be achieved due to certain complexities which the Law Ministry seems to have overlooked before presenting the suggestions or articles for the ordinance.
Had the Ordinance been clearly structured 13,000 women would have been breathing the fresh air in the open by now after having been bailed out from their prison cells. Surprisingly, contrary to the good intentions and against the spirit of the ordinance most non-bailable offences for the women have been made bailable, which would benefit even those involved in the heinous crimes like murder, terrorism and corruption and the perpetrators of such crimes will be entitled to bail after six months under the ordinance.
On the other hand most of those involved in minor and other offences might not get immediate relief and it could take them much longer to be released due to several factors such as; provisioning of the surety in person or money. Due to our societal compulsions not many are likely to come forward to associate themselves with a stigmatic prisoner and stand surety for her.
The ordinance is silent on the female drug pushers and their status, some of who are known to be a part of the drug mafia. Since only those women involved in heinous crimes like murder or terrorism are not entitled for immediate release, the natural corollary would be that the drug pushing women could be released from the lockup under the ordinance. With this one wonders that with the already increased trend of smuggling heroin, hashish, cocaine and other contrabands through women in the country, with the promulgation of the ordinance, would the notorious smugglers and the drug mafia not make increased use of the women for their such nefarious trade?
Only last week this scribe visited the Central Jail Peshawar women prison and talked to some of the inmates there who were caught red handed smuggling drugs. They openly confessed their involvement in drug smuggling, but, however maintained that the main culprits were the men folk who used them as carriers.
A question arises about the foreign female nationals involved in drug smuggling? Would all the foreign female in jails in Pakistan for drug trafficking be released under the ordinance? If yes, who will arrange for their deportation expenses? There are many foreign women in jails mostly from African countries for drug trafficking and somehow their embassies are doing not much for them. Currently there are eight foreign women in the Peshawar Jail; four black Africans, two - Natasha and Blanch - from South Africa, while one each from Nigeria and Gambia for drug trafficking.
There are four Indian women along with their kids who are interned under Frontier Crimes Regulations for illegally crossing the Pak Afghan border some 13 months back.
If all these women were released on bail where will they proceed as they don’t have any place to stay nor the money to depart to their country. Further more the ordinance is silent over the matter whether trial proceedings against these women will remain in effect or be dropped?.
The plight of the women jailed under the Hudood Ordinance is still worse. Some of them are there because of their own helplessness. In that their inability to produce four eye witnesses to the crime and by their having admitted to have been raped which the law in the absence of the witnesses equates with to have committed zina! Not all are, though innocent either. Despite the NGOs raising great hue and cry over the Hudood cases and despite the prostitution being a culpable offence in Pakistan, the existence of the dastardly trade of prostitution cannot be totally denied.
Just to cite an example; there are two groups of Afghan girls in Peshawar Central
Jail, one interned under the Hudood Ordinance and the other for lack of legal travel documents. One has to see to believe the provocative way the former group dresses itself, wears the Moulin Rouge style heavy makeup and the way they puff at the cigarettes! I was stunned and felt like having suddenly landed in the midst of a French beauty contest show. It will, therefore, be not far wrong to assume that prostitution could gain momentum as those running the dens will have the opportunity to bail out their ‘workers’ in a few days’ time which would have otherwise taken them months.
There are 337 women prisoners in NWFP jails, 25 are convicts, four in murder cases, one in NAB case and four under the FCR while 62 are for other crimes. 89 are in Peshawar Jail, among these 25 are convicts, 12 under trial, 51 condemned and 1 in super class in corruption case under NAB.
There are 274 women in Sindh jails, 159 under trial, 42 are in Larkana and Sukker jails while about 60 women are expected to be released under the ordinance. There was also a case of smuggling 17 Kg heroin which when evaluated in US dollars runs into billions at the New York market. Now, would it be fair to release such an accused? A sum of about Rs. 27 lakh would be needed in sureties for some of the women prisoners in Sindh jails. Who will arrange that? and would the detainees, therefore, not be forced to stay in the jail even when offered to be released?
In the Punjab jails there are 350 women prisoners mostly jailed for robbery, murder, drugs and under Hudood laws. Of them 106 are in Adyala Jail, 18 are in Shaikhupura jail, 44 in Gujranwala Jail among who 43 are under trial while one is a convict, whose punishment will be over on July 31st . 109 are in Faisalabad Jail, 51 convicts in murder cases with 25 years imprisonment each and 58 are under trial. The remaining are in other jails of the province.
In case of delay on the part of Parliament to pass the act, women will receive no benefit as the Presidential Order under the constitution will automatically lapse unless it is ratified by the parliament within four months of its promulgation. It is, therefore, imperative that the government studied the Ordinance thoroughly and amended it where required as it has four months to do the needful once for all.
It is also suggested that in order to help the poor and genuine victims the government should either waive off the monetary surety for them or they be released on the personal surety of their relatives. The NGOs advocating Human Rights can play their role by putting up sureties for the hapless women in jails. As far as the foreign women are concerned the International Human Rights organization and their respective embassies in Pakistan could come forward to mitigate their sufferings.
The President has done a great favour to the women, let others also rise to the occasion.