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How The Legal & Family Systems Fail Women

And what we can do to fight back

BY Agnes Amondi

Dec 29, 2022, 09:47 PM

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The other day I was going through a few news items online and came across several headlines highlighting the story of a Pakistani court that freed a rapist after he agreed to marry his victim.

Naturally, I stopped to read. As I was going through the story, I was baffled by so many aspects of how the court arrived at this agonising decision.

If you haven’t read the story, this is how it goes. A 25-year-old man, Dawlat Khan was serving a life sentence for raping a deaf woman in Pakistan. He was released after his family and the victim reached an out-of-court settlement. On top of that, his “deal to marry” the victim was enough to set him free.

Dawlat was arrested early this year after his victim gave birth and paternity tests proved that he was the father of the child. 

You can’t make this up. With all the effort that women around the world are putting up to make the world a safer and just place for women, such decisions hold us back and send the wrong message. It basically states that violence against women is not a big deal. But it is and always will be. 

Yes, the crime happened in Pakistan, but it’s as relevant to any woman around the world because it shows just how difficult it is to improve the lives of women anywhere. If we are ever going to make a real step, we need these two institutions to play their part.


The fact that the victim’s family agreed to an out-of-court settlement demonstrates the lack of safe places women have. If your own family can “sell you out” for a few coins or whatever they agreed on, then where else can you run to? 

The details of the agreement have not been made public but if I bring it home, some families, particularly after negotiations with village elders, accept livestock and money, as enough punishment for such a detrimental crime. They also allow the abuser to marry the woman and allow him to walk scot-free.

Who negotiates the settlement? Men. And they do not have any interest in the woman at heart which only means that women, in this day and age, are still treated as second-rate citizens. 

Equally, the mother and other women in the community are hardly consulted as they are expected to accept any decision reached by the village elders.

The Justice System

One of the things that the report showed was that convicting a rape case in Pakistan is difficult. And we’ve heard about this elsewhere, even here. So often, women know that they won’t be believed because the justice system is hellbent on evidence. As such, without any evidence, and let’s use the word they use, solid evidence, nothing happens.

Victim blaming always follows. Numerous women recount being asked about their clothing on the day and the time of the incident which only suggests that they invited the abuse. 

Therefore, despite efforts to make the laws stronger, the environment doesn't permit women to report their cases. If they do, like in this case, it seems families' convictions are allowed to trump the laws of the land. 

We don’t know if the victim was approached about the withdrawal of charges or if the family took the decision on her behalf. I won’t be surprised if the latter happened as it so often does. 

The greater question to the justice system is why it didn't stamp its authority on the matter. It is often said that no one is above the law or at least no one should but that never applied here. There's no way family traditions can bypass the law and thus this is a huge omission by the court.

What More Can We Do?

Well, human rights activists expressed their dissatisfaction with the case and rightly so. It is a miscarriage of justice and we need to add our voices to the issue. More to that, the one thing that needs to happen is to have the legal system trump every other system. 

We cannot allow a few village elders to bypass the legal system and overturn a legal decision just because they can. It’s time to push back and dismantle such institutions and give voice to women.

The purported marriage between an abuser and his victim should not be allowed to stand, regardless of the family's position and such loopholes should be sealed. 

It’s only then that women will have the chance to make decisions that work best for them.

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