Definition of marital rape: ways to address in Pakistan:

By definition, marital rape is any unwanted sexual acts by a husband or ex-husband, committed without permission (ijaazat) and/or against a person’s will (zabardasti), obtained by force, or threat of force, intimidation, or when a person is unable to give permission.

These sexual acts include intercourse, anal or oral sex, forced sexual behavior with other individuals, and can also include other sexual activities that are considered by the victim as degrading, humiliating, painful, and unwanted.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, the concept of marital rape is not recognized by law and cannot be prosecuted, therefore women who are the victims of marital rape cannot report it to bring the culprit to justice and continue to be persecuted.

They are only limited to seeking counseling, medical help or in extreme cases dissolution of the marriage. It is important to educate women and make them aware that marital rape is a form of abuse, to encourage them towards education and economic independence so that they will not put up with the continued abuse.

Some questions that women may ask are:

1. Can there be rape within a marriage?
Ans: “Marital rape occurs when your spouse forces you to take part in certain sex acts without your consent”. It is a form of intimate partner violence, i.e., an abuse of power by which one spouse attempts to establish dominance and control over the other. Forced marital sex is not a marital right!

2. Is there only one type of marital rape?
Ans: Legally, marital rape is divided into three categories:

  • Battering or Violent rape – In addition to forced sexual intercourse, the partner also beats and physically injures the victim
  • Force-only rape – Any form of forced sexual encounter accompanied by verbal threats and violence to force a sexual encounter.
  • Sadistic or obsessive rape – The aggressor is “obsessed” with sex and the act itself is violent, sadistic and aggressive. The abuser may even use the act of violence to get “aroused”.

3. Is marital rape a crime?
Ans: Not in Pakistan. In many countries, yes. Those countries include India, Sri Lanka, France, Germany, Canada and Nepal.

Complete list: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, England, the Fiji Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Macedonia, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, The Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Trinidad/Tobago, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe.

There is social stigma attached to marital rape (as some women may be confused whether forced sex is really rape or just sex within a marriage) and cultural norms do define that in a marriage, sex is completely legal, consensual and the right of a man and woman. This along with fear of husband abuse following reporting of “marital rape”, alienation from family and in-laws and fear of social stigma (once it is out in the open following disclosure) can discourage the reporting of marital rape.
Prosecution of marital rape is very rare in Pakistan and it is likely that the person will only find help with a help group or with appropriate counseling, but the law will not help her in prosecuting her husband.

4. Can we identify marital rape?
Ans: Yes, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Have you been forced to have sex by your spouse when you didn’t want to?
  • Have you ever been held down physically against your wishes during sex with your husband?
  • Have you been intentionally physically hurt by your husband while having sex?
  • Have you felt extremely uncomfortable with your partner’s sexual requests, but complied anyway?
  • Have you ever been scared or fearful to say “no” to your husband when you did not want to have sex but ended up having sex unwillingly?
  • Have you ever felt “sexually harassed” by your husband and given into having sex because of the harassment?

If the answer to all of the above or one of the above is “yes” then you have been a victim of marital rape.

It is important for women to understand that marriage between a man and a woman is a contract based on mutual respect, love and empathy. A man and a woman both have right to their own body and forced sexual acts can never be an expression of love but are actually a deliberate betrayal of the contract of respect and trust between the husband and the wife.

Ways to address marital rape in Pakistan:

1. Names and a list of help centers – ROZAN, WAR, PANAH, MADAGAR
2. Help lines – Marie Stopes Society
3. Anonymous help – GAWAHI.com
4. Medical help – Marie Stopes

Early marriage and its effects on health

Early marriage is seen often in our culture and girls are married before they are 18 years of age or having completed their education. There are many aspects that we need to be aware of when it comes to early marriage in terms of emotional, psychological and physical well being of the girl involved.

Firstly, adolescence is one of the best parts of a girl’s life and for it to be cut short because of the responsibilities thrust upon her by marriage can be difficult, challenging and cumbersome to handle.

In 2002, the Population Council predicted that over the following decade more than 100 million girls worldwide would marry before their 18th birthday. Some of these girls will marry as young as eight or nine, and many will marry against their will (International Women’s health program).

A young girl’s parents or in some cases, the extended family or the community (jirga, baradari) most often makes the decision for a young girl to marry at an early age. Several factors that could play a role in this decision could be cultural beliefs, economic situations and social and gender norms (larki ab jawann ho gaye hai, shaadi ka time!)

Some parents may believe that, by marrying their daughter at an early age, they are helping her to fulfill her main function in society – that of a wife and mother. They could also, rightly or wrongly, believe that by limiting her to one partner, she is at decreased risk for STD’s (one partner sex) and perhaps financial stability for both the daughter and the family.

However, no matter how good the intentions of the parents are or in the worst case scenario it’s done by force, it strips many young girls of their childhood, their dreams and most importantly their basic human rights and their health.

Effects of early marriage on health:

One of the most important issues that face young girls after an early marriage is the pressure to have children and start a family. Not only are they physically young to experience the challenges of motherhood but young girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have a higher likelihood of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including obstetric fistula.

They are also more likely to have children with low birth weight, anemia and inadequate nutrition.

The health of these young mothers is also at risk for developing cervical cancer later in life. This is important to note as the concept of regular pap smears is not so prevalent in Pakistan and cervical cancer is detected at a late stage.

Other factors to note are:

1. Feeling of powerlessness: The lack of power associated with child marriage can pose additional reproductive health risks. Young wives cannot negotiate sexual relations, contraceptive use, having children, and other aspects of domestic life. The inability and the added pressure from their husbands can put them in a weak and defenseless position for contracting STD’s and HIV.

2. Age difference: A large age difference and therefore an unequal husband and wife relationship can also increase the likelihood of domestic violence and abuse.
Women who marry young are more likely to be beaten or threatened, and are most likely to believe that a husband’s violence is justified.

Definition of Rape

According to Pakistani law, rape is defined as : sexual intercourse in the absence of a valid marriage against the will or without the consent of the victim; Sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of sixteen with or without consent. In Pakistan, rape within marriage is not recognized as a criminal offense.

Rape is not an act of desire; it is an act of domination and control. In instances of rape, sex is used as a means of enforcing power and domination. It is important to remember that rape is a crime. It is never the fault of the victim. Rape is a traumatic experience and one needs the support of their loved ones to help them through this difficult time.

What should a person do in the event of rape?

  • One should seek immediate medical attention especially if one wants to press charges or file a case. Delays in seeking an examination can allow time for wounds, cuts, and bruises to heal resulting in a lack of physical evidence with which to prosecute the case.
  • One should not clean oneself, bathe, urinate, defecate, or change clothing before proceeding for a medical examination as this is valuable evidence which may later be used in court.
  • In order to proceed with a criminal investigation, a First Information Report (FIR) is required. An FIR can be registered at the local police station. For those residing in Karachi, experience any problems in filing an FIR at the local police station, one can also file an FIR at the Citizen’s Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) Office located in the Sindh Governor’s Secretariat. Contact number: 111-222-345.
  • If any items (for example clothes) are handed to the police make sure a receipt is obtained for them.

What kind of treatment is required?

In the case of rape, please ensure the following:

  • Pregnancy prevention measures: It is important to take emergency contraception as soon as possible. Emergency contraception can be taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse; however, it is best to take it within the first few hours. Emergency contraception such as Emkit, Estinor, ECP, and EC is available at most pharmacies.
  • Pregnancy testing: A pregnancy test should be conducted in the case of all women who are of reproductive age.
  • Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI): There is a chance of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and Hepatitis during rape. It is important to get oneself tested for possible infections. STI testing facilities are available at most major government hospitals.

Where to go for a medico-legal examination?

In the event of rape, individuals who want to press charges need to be examined by a government-appointed doctor working in one of the designated public sector hospitals. The public hospital section where such patients are examined and treated is referred to as the medico-legal department. The purpose of a medico-legal examination is two-fold: to provide individuals with basic and immediate healthcare; and to collect medical and forensic information that can be used as evidence in subsequent court proceedings.

Female medico-legal doctors are usually available at all the leading civil hospitals of the city. If a she is not present at the hospital, one can request that the female medico-legal officer on call be brought in to conduct the examination.

One does not have to obtain a police letter or referral or FIR before the medico-legal examination. By law, the medico-legal officer is required to proceed with the examination even without the presence of a police letter or FIR. In fact, the medico-legal officer is bound to provide all required assistance by informing the nearest police station.

What happens in the examination?

The medico-legal officer conducts a vaginal/anal exam to verify the rape. The medico-legal officer also examines the rape survivor’s body for external (cuts, bruises, abrasions etc) and internal injuries (bone fractures, bleeding etc) and collects and documents evidence. Usually a pregnancy test is administered at the medico-legal centre only if some time has passed since the rape. If one proceeds for a medico-legal examination immediately after the rape, one may have to revisit the hospital in a few weeks to take a pregnancy test. They may also be asked to take a blood test for blood grouping.

What is the medico-legal certificate?

The details of the examination are recorded in a medico-legal certificate. Since this is used as evidence in court, it is essential that one is aware of the details of the report before placing one’s signature on it.

In cases where forensic evidence has been collected, a final medico-legal certificate cannot be issued until the forensic data has been analyzed. This process can take up to several weeks. One should obtain a copy of the medico-legal certificate when it is ready.

What are the costs associated with the examination?

The examination is provided free of cost. However, one may be asked to purchase materials or supplies such as gloves, cotton swabs, glass jars etc. with which to conduct your examination.


What to do in the event of Rape?

Organizations that can help:

War Against Rape (WAR)
Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association (PAWLA)
Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA)
Marie Stopes Society (MSS)
Sindh AIDS Control Programme Clinic