PM Imran forms committee to address issues of female prisoners in Pakistan

by Tauqeer Abbas

Shafaqna Pakistan: Pakistan’s premier Imran Khan on Friday formed a committee to study and investigate the plight of thousands of women prisoners across the country.

The committee, headed by Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari and includes inspector general of prisons of all the four provinces, and northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, will submit its findings within next four months.

“The committee has been constituted taking into account the plight of the female prisoners, whether convicted or awaiting trial, in overall context of gender biasness prevalent in the society at large and issues associated therewith,” said a statement from the Prime Minister Office on Friday.

The purview of the committee includes: to review, and assess the incumbent prison rules, governance, legal aid, and international best practices are being adhered to with respect to women prisoners, especially their protection, rights, health, security, and well-being.

It will also review individual cases of human rights violations and victimization of women inmates and suggest measures for institutional accountability, according to the statement.

Another task assigned to the committee is to review situation of children accompanying women in jails and work to help mainstream such children, especially with regard to their education and social integration, it said.

Solutions to be given by committee on female prisoners in Pakistan
It will also suggest comprehensive and workable system of governance of prisons in Pakistan with a view to ameliorating the plight of women in prison, the statement added.

Currently, there are over 2,500 female inmates in the country, of them more than 1,200 are juveniles, whereas 33 are on death row, according to the local media.

They also include scores of foreign females, mostly from Africa, who have been behind the bars on the charges of drug trafficking.

Ill-treatment of female prisoners in Pakistan

In Pakistan, women prisoners reported depression, stress, mental illness, sleep disorder and generalised anxiety. Women prisoners also tend to have less family support than men, including less contact with family members.

A 2013 study in Sindh also mentions that 21 prisoners were forced to confess due to physical torture, psychological threats by police and pressure from male relatives and tribal heads who visited them. Seven inmates were forced to sign on a blank paper, leaving it open for the authorities to fill with charges.

The UNODC report found that 12.5pc of the total women interviewed stated that they had faced some form of sexual harassment while in prison.

Poor conditions of prisoners in Pakistan: an ongoing issue

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) had been informed in 2019 that there were 4,800 inmates in Adial Jail against actual capacity of 1,500 prisoners. The IHC is hearing a case pertaining the health and other facilities for the prisoners in jails across the country. There is a popular opinion that the powerful and rich men and women are given special treatment if they are arrested. Otherwise, analysts believe, the situation is quite dismaying.

The IHC then formed a commission to investigate human rights violations and the lack of medical assistance to ailing prisoners in the country’s jails, to be headed by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari.

In January, Shireen Mazari submitted a report before Justice Minallah highlighting the plight of prisoners in jails across the country.

“Amongst the total prison population, there are currently almost 2,100 prisoners with physical ailments, approximately 2,400 inmates who are suffering from contagious diseases like HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis and approximately 600 prisoners who suffer from mental diseases,” the report said.

The IHC judge observed that the report unambiguously showed that conditions in the prisons were “shocking”. “The prisoners are being subjected to intolerable conditions of detention, which are seriously prejudicing their right to life and inviolability of dignity. The report indicated the apathy, disregard and indifference of state functionaries towards ordinary citizens.”

The court issued the directions that the Implementation Commission shall at the earliest hold a meeting and seek reports from the respective chief secretaries of the provinces — who are also members of the Commission — regarding implementation of the recommendations made in the report.

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