After a girl around the age of 12 or 13 years old was raped in a field earlier this month by her 16-year-old relative in a small village in the Punjab region of Pakistan, elders within the extended family convened to determine an appropriate punishment. The punishment the elders decided upon, Multan city police chief Ahsan Younis told The Washington Post, was for the victim’s brother, who was also 16, to rape the teenage sister of the attacker. Making matters even more horrific, the victims and assailants were all part of the same extended family — the first assailant’s father, it turned out, was the brother of the second assailant’s grandfather.
“They are victims and accused at the same time,” said Younis. “It’s barbaric.”
Honor killings, rapes, and forced child marriages are among the myriad of traditional punishments that can be ordered by a “panchayat,” a village council made up of elders. What makes this case unusual, however, beyond the horrific rape of two young girls, is the fact that someone reported the crimes to the Violence Against Women Center in Multan, prompting police to arrest the two 16-year-old boys accused of rape. As police investigated the case further, Younis said, they discovered that dozens of members of the extended family had known and accepted the enactment of the “revenge rape.” Family members said that the decision to rape the second girl was mutually agreed upon by the families of the two girls on the condition that the first victim’s family would not take legal action against her attacker, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Following the police investigation, arrests were ordered for 29 people — all members of the same extended family.
“Panchayats have no standing and the courts have stated the same,” said human rights lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir on Wednesday. “If they act outside of law, then the panchayat and its members should be prosecuted according to the law.”
The case also caught the attention of Mukhtar Mai, who in 2002 was subjected to a gang rape at the order of village elders in the same district that the recent revenge rape occurred. Mai was allegedly raped by at least 14 men as 200 tribal leaders looked on after determining that she must be raped because her brother had been accused of having an affair. Mai took her attackers to trial, only for the judge to acquit nearly all of them.
“Such incidents remind me of 2002,” Mai told Geo News on Wednesday, adding that hearing about the case had left her heartbroken. Nonetheless, she said, rape victims must continue to speak out against their attackers.
Last year, Punjab lawmakers voted to criminalize all forms of violence against women and to order the establishment of women’s shelters and a toll-free hotline for reporting abuse, according to Reuters. A similar law passed in Pakistan last year also closed a legal loophole that had allowed the families of those who commit honor killings to forgive the perpetrator and thereby escape legal punishment. According to statistics from the Pakistan Human Right’s Commission, more than 1,000 women and girls are subjected to “honor killings” each year.
Read the full story at The Washington Post.