Marital Rape: An Overview

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Marital rape, also known as spousal rape, is a grave violation of a person’s autonomy and consent. In Pakistan, however, the legal framework does not specifically criminalize marital rape. The absence of legal recognition, coupled with societal attitudes rooted in notions of implied consent and patriarchal norms, poses significant challenges for survivors of marital rape seeking justice and support.


Historical Context:

Under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), Section 375 criminalizes rape but does not include language explicitly addressing marital rape. The exclusion of marital rape from the law can be traced back to the 1979 Zina Offenses Ordinance, which defined rape as non-consensual sexual intercourse by a man with a woman who was not his wife. However, an amendment in 2006 removed the phrase “not his wife,” broadening the definition of rape to encompass non-consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, irrespective of their marital relationship. Despite this amendment, there remains a lack of specific penal provisions that criminalize marital rape.


Reporting Challenges and Societal Attitudes:

The recognition of marital rape as a crime faces resistance due to societal beliefs surrounding implied consent. The idea that a woman’s agreement to marriage implies consent for sexual relations perpetuates the misconception that spousal rape does not exist. This belief can be traced back to the British legal system and the interpretation of British Barrister and Jurist Sir Mathew Hale, who claimed that a man cannot rape his wife as the wife had given herself up to the man for sexual intercourse through marriage. Such perspectives perpetuate the notion of women as property and disregard their right to bodily autonomy.


Through the Islamic Lense: 

In Pakistan, where laws are influenced by Islamic principles, there is a tendency to selectively interpret Islamic provisions. Some interpretations wrongly suggest that a woman cannot deny her husband’s sexual access, contrary to established Islamic jurisprudence. True Islamic teachings emphasize love, tranquility, and mercy within marriages, forbidding violence and ill-treatment towards wives. Quranic verses clearly prohibit any form of compulsion or harm between individuals. For instance, Quran 4:19 states, “O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion,” while An-Nisa 4:19 emphasizes treating women with kindness, even if one dislikes them: “O believers, treat women with kindness even if you dislike them; it is quite possible that you dislike something which Allah might yet make a source of abundant good.” These verses demonstrate that Islam encourages harmonious and respectful relationships within marriages, rejecting any notion of forced sexual relations.


Challenges faced by Survivors:

Survivors of marital rape encounter numerous challenges when pursuing justice. The association of honor with female bodies and the shame and dishonor attached to reporting rape often discourage survivors from coming forward. Delayed reporting due to societal pressures exacerbates these challenges, leading to questions and adverse observations by the court. Gender insensitivity within law enforcement further complicates matters, as stereotypical patriarchal attitudes prevail, hindering survivors from feeling comfortable reporting their experiences.


Legal Proceedings:

Establishing a case of marital rape requires evidence similar to non-marital rape cases, such as victim testimony, medical examinations, and corroborating evidence. However, the private nature of marital rape within the confines of a couple’s home makes it difficult to gather witnesses or physical evidence. Moreover, family pressure and the lack of gender sensitization within the legal system contribute to survivors choosing not to pursue legal action. Out-of-court settlements, despite rape being a non-compoundable offense, often prevent cases from reaching court, resulting in acquittals for perpetrators.


The Urgent Need for Recognition:

The depiction of marital rape in a popular TV drama has recently sparked a significant uproar and ignited a powerful social media backlash. Viewers have passionately expressed their outrage and condemnation towards the portrayal of this sensitive issue. However, amid the backlash, there have been instances where some individuals, including women, have unfortunately attempted to justify marital rape by asserting that husbands have an inherent right to demand sexual access from their wives at any time. This disturbing justification underscores a profound lack of recognition and understanding of marital rape as a heinous crime. Many women are unable to recognize that they are experiencing a grave violation of their bodily autonomy, consent, and dignity within the confines of their marriages. Societal conditioning, which often promotes the concept of women’s unquestioning submission to their husbands’ desires, further complicates the recognition of marital rape as an alarming problem. As a result, numerous cases of marital rape remain unreported and victims are denied justice. It is of utmost importance to challenge these misconceptions, raise awareness, and foster open dialogue regarding the realities of marital rape in order to safeguard the rights and well-being of married individuals.


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