Pakistan says it has removed a clause from a new anti-rape law that had allowed for the chemical castration of repeat rapists.
Prime Minister Imran Khan's government confirmed the decision two days after the ruling coalition hurriedly approved 33 legislative bills, including the anti-rape law, in a joint session of the parliament on Wednesday, amid furious protests by opposition lawmakers.
"The Islamic Council of Ideology had objected to the punishment of chemical castration for rapists for being an un-Islamic practice, so we decided to remove it from the law," Maleeka Bukhari, parliamentary secretary on law, told reporters Friday in Islamabad.
The council is a constitutional advisory body mandated to interpret and ensure all Pakistani laws are in line with Islam.
The new anti-rape law would allow for speedy convictions and severe sentences for perpetrators, including the death penalty. The legislation requires the government to establish special courts across Pakistan to try rape cases in secrecy and decide them "expeditiously, preferably within four months."
Under the law, a nationwide register of sex offenders will also be maintained with the help of the National Database and Registration Authority. The identity of victims will be protected and special "anti-rape crisis cells" will be formed to conduct medical examinations of victims within hours of the crime.
Those found guilty of gang rape will be sentenced to death or imprisoned for the rest of their life.
The new law is a response to a public outcry against a recent surge in incidents of rape of women and children in Pakistan and growing demands for effectively stemming the crime.
Khan proposed last year in repeated public statements that he wanted to introduce chemical castration to stem sexual offenses. The prime minister's remarks came amid a national outcry stemming from the September 2020 assault on a woman, who was dragged out of her car and raped by two men at gunpoint in front of her children, when her car was stalled on the side of the road.
Chemical castration, a forced medical treatment designed to reduce sex drive, is carried out by the use of drugs and is a reversible process. The punishment is practiced in countries such as Poland, South Korea, the Czech Republic and some U.S. states.
While some research indicates the procedure can reduce recidivism, critics call it inhumane and ineffective.
Amnesty International, while responding to the reported approval of the chemical castration by Pakistan, said Thursday the "cruel and inhuman" legislation violated the country's international and constitutional legal obligations.
"Rather than ratcheting up punishments, the authorities should address the deep-seated problems in the criminal justice system that invariably deny justice to victims. Chemical castrations will not solve a deficient police force or inadequately trained investigators," the human rights group said.
Critics say fewer than 4% of sexual assault or rape cases in Pakistan result in a conviction.
Legal experts say rape cases in Pakistan take years to prosecute and rapists often escape punishment because political influence leads to faulty police investigations. Moreover, rampant corruption in the lower judiciary can help rapists in seeking favorable verdicts.
The circumstances often discourage women from seeking justice for fear of being shamed or persecuted by police or even their own relatives in the largely conservative Pakistani society.