Daily Briefs

Photo : The Express Tribune

8 March 2020, Sunday

Cyber crimes against women in Pakistan

PR Daily Brief | Lakshmi V Menon

As of January 2020, Pakistan has 76.38 million internet users with 37million of them being active social media users. (Digital 2020 reports, 30 January 2020) Cyber presence is increasing, and so are cybercrimes. Gender-based interpersonal cybercrime causing gender-based violence including physical, sexual and/or emotional harm is rising in Pakistan. Women face blackmailing, cyber-harassment, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, non-consensual distribution and use of compromising intimate videos, images and/or doctored images.

A Pakistani advocacy and research NGO, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) shared noteworthy statistical data regarding Pakistani women and cyberspace in their latest report. First, 72 per cent of women are unaware of cyber harassment laws in Pakistan. Second, 70 per cent women are scared to post their images online. Third, 47 per cent of women consider reporting cyber-harassment and cyber-crimes unnecessary. Fourth, 45 per cent of women consider reporting online harassment an embarrassment. Fifth, 40 per cent of all Pakistani women using the internet, are victims to cyberstalking and harassment via messaging apps. (The Express Tribune, 8 March 2020)

DRF executive director Nighat Dad told The Express Tribune that for cyberspace victims in Pakistan DRF had set up a Cyber Harassment Helpline (0800-39393) which would provide “legal advice, psychological counselling, digital security support and a referral system”. Nighat explained that due to social stigma, family restrictions, societal pressures, lack of trust in authorities, time-consuming investigative procedures, increasing threats from harassers and doubts regarding implementation of corresponding laws many crimes go unreported. Meanwhile, digital illiteracy regarding security systems, online platforms and privacy settings add to the vulnerability women face in the cyberspace.

Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, alone guarantees austere reprimands for cyber-crimes. Supreme Court Advocate Rabeeya Bajwa detailed additional laws such as Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution (Art 14 - which speaks of state’s responsibility to protect dignity of individuals; Art 19 which awards freedom of speech and expression), and Law of Defamation, that could be utilized depending on the nature of the crimes.

However, the disproportionality between rate of convictions and reporting is appalling. As per a report by the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, only 32 out of 56,000 filed complaints were under investigation. The committee blamed the FIA and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. (The Express Tribune, 8 March 2020)

The article from Tribune comes in the wake of the Aurat March, observing International Women’s Day, happening amid discordant gender inequality debates. The “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (My body, my choice), a bold Urdu slogan has triggered criticism. Federal Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan has said that the march misleads Pakistani women. Former Prime Minister and vice president of PML-N said the march’s slogan by creating an incorrect “impression” has failed to highlight relevant issues. The spiteful live discourse between Khalil Qamar, a famous play writer and Marvi Sirmed, an activist aired on 4 March by Neo News is fuelling the ongoing debate.

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