By Raja Asghar
12 October 2011
Islamabad: Some last-minute objections to perceived harshness and drafting flaws blocked what its authors called a historic pro-women bill to penalise practices like forced marriages and so-called marriages with the holy Quran when private draft had nearly been passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday.
On a day it also saw the introduction of another landmark private bill seeking to facilitate access to information, the house was about to pass the fifth and last clause of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill when objectors forced Speaker Fehmida Mirza to refer the draft back to the law ministry for another vetting within a week so it could be taken up again on the next private members` day on October 18.
The five-clause Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, which had been pending before the house since 2008, was sponsored by eight lawmakers of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) and piloted by a party activist Donya Aziz, while the first private members` day of the present session saw former information and broadcasting minister Sherry Rehman of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party (PPP) finally succeeding in introducing her Right to Information Bill after about seven years of efforts, with eight other private bills.
With some amendments moved by S.A. Iqbal Qadri of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill sought to amend the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to provide for imprisonment for life or at least 10 years for using deceitful means to deprive a woman from inheritance, up to seven years and at least three years imprisonment for giving a woman in forced marriage to settle civil disputes or a criminal liability, and up to seven years in prison for compelling or facilitating “the marriage of a woman with the holy Quran, besides varying amounts of heavy fines.
After a member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, called for deletion of provisions for mandatory minimum punishment that he called harsh and PPP`s Fakhrunnisa Khokhar objected to the use of the word inheritance rather than succession for immovable property, calls also came for a consideration of the major clauses from PPP`s Shahnaz Wazir Ali and Nafisa Shah and law ministry adviser Farooq Awan.
This evoked dismay from Ms Donya Aziz who regretted what she called belated objections and adviser Awan “not being well-versed” with the bill while Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Maula Bakhsh Chandio was absent from the house.
However, the PML-Q member, realising her bill could not materialise without PPP support, requested for fixing a time-limit for the law ministry`s re-examination, to which the speaker agreed by setting a deadline up to the next private members` day after passing some of her own strictures against the law ministry.
But the speaker said whatever of the bill had been passed would remain valid.
Earlier, Ms Rehman, while introducing her bill, said the draft would be a fulfilment of what she called a “historic promise” made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani while he set tasks for the first 100 days of his government and was in accord with the PPP policies and the 18th Amendment passed by parliament last year.
She said the bill would greatly remove hurdles faced by the media and citizens in seeking information from state organisations as well as private companies by setting a 14-day limit for providing the required information with a provision for appeal to a special ombudsman.
She asked the house standing committee on information and broadcasting to give an open hearing to media and citizens` groups while considering the bill.
Other private bills introduced in the house to which the government had no objection included one by PPP member Khurram Jehangir Wattoo seeking a constitutional amendment to provide for a compulsory parliamentary approval of all treaties and instruments relating to defence, one by PML-Q`s Kishan Chand Parwani for a law to regulate marriages of Hindus and members of other non-Muslim minorities, and five from PML-N`s Naseer Bhutta seeking amendments to the constitution and some other laws.