The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) recently issued concluding observations from its February review of Pakistan’s compliance with CEDAW and called out the government for lack of access to health care and policies that routinely ignore the human rights of Pakistani women. The Committee’s concluding observations echoed the Center’s input on the review—via a shadow letter—on a wide array of issues, including abortion, marital rape, maternal mortality, contraceptives, and early marriage.
Most notably, for the first time, the Committee specially called for the expansion of Pakistan’s abortion law on the grounds of rape and incest. Creating exceptions for rape and incest would lead to fewer unsafe abortions and improve women’s health. The rates for abortion in Pakistan are extremely high—due in part to a high incidence of sexual violence as well as a lack of access to family planning methods—and according to current estimates, a Pakistani woman will have at least one abortion in her lifetime. The Committee also acknowledged the “large number of women resorting to unsafe abortions as well as the lack of adequate post-abortion care services.”
Additionally, the CEDAW Committee voiced its concern that marital rape is not criminalized. No national law criminalizing domestic violence exists in Pakistan, and incidences of domestic violence and rape remain grossly underreported as a result. It called on Pakistan’s government to properly implement the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act of 2011 and to “repeal all provisions under which perpetrators of the so-called honour crimes are allowed to negotiate pardon with victims’ families.” Similarly, the Committee urged Pakistan to repeal discriminatory provisions in the Qisas and Diyat Ordinances, which also allow for this practice.
The Center applauds the CEDAW Committee for introducing these new Concluding Observations that should encourage Pakistan to prioritize the elimination of sexual violence.
On maternal mortality, the Committee recognized “the high maternal mortality rate in Pakistan, women’s lack of adequate access to family planning services, including contraceptives,” and asked the government to “strengthen its efforts to reduce the high rate of maternal mortality, and ensure access to affordable contraceptive methods throughout the country.” Importantly, the Committee highlighted insufficient budgetary resources for the health sector, especially related to sexual and reproductive health, and urged Pakistan to ensure sufficient allocations of resources to all provinces, particularly in rural areas.
The CEDAW Committee also asked Pakistan to change the minimum age for marriage of girls to 18 years. The Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) made 16 the legal marrying age. And the Muslim Marriages Dissolution Act (1939) offers a narrow, nearly meaningless route for girls illegally married before 16 to dissolve their marriages. The girl must do so before she turns 18, provided that she has not yet consummated the marriage. As noted in the Center’s shadow letter, women and girls are expected to start childbearing immediately after marrying, and the lack of autonomy for married girls makes it difficult to meet the requirement that a marriage not be consummated, rendering the Dissolution Act useless for most.
The Center commends the CEDAW Committee for raising a wide range of reproductive health and rights issues in its review of Pakistan. We strongly urge Pakistan to prioritize the health and lives of women by implementing the Committee’s Concluding Observations.