NEW YORK: Pakistan’s Human Rights Ministry report highlighted the poor conditions of women in prisons as well as the massive scale of mistreatment meted out to them in jails and the need for broad and sustained reform, said US-based NGO Human Right Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams.
The report ‘Plight of Women in Pakistan’s Prisons,’ submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan on August 26, highlighted that Pakistan’s prison laws did not meet international standards and that officials often ignore laws meant to protect women prisoners, according to a statement by the Human Right Watch (HRW).
“The Human Rights Ministry has highlighted the massive scale of mistreatment of women in prison and the need for broad and sustained reform,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While an important step, this report can only bring change if Pakistani authorities follow its recommendations and end widespread abuse.”
Of the 1,121 women in prison as of mid-2020, 66 per cent had not been convicted of any offence and were detained while awaiting the conclusion of their trial. More than 300 women were detained in facilities outside the districts where they lived, making family visits nearly impossible.
On September 2, Khan ordered officials to carry out a Supreme Court decision compelling the release of women prisoners to reduce prison congestion and limit the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19.
The women to be released are awaiting trial for minor offences or have served most of their prison terms. Khan also asked for “immediate reports on foreign women prisoners and women on death row for humanitarian consideration” and possible release, the statement noted.
The committee, which submitted the reported to Khan, found that prison staff routinely failed to observe appropriate protections against the spread of the coronavirus. Prison staff failed to put social distancing measures in place or require prisoners and staff to wear masks.
The committee urged comprehensive medical screening for all entering prisoners. According to the HRW, the children who accompany their mothers in prison face additional risks.
The committee found that 134 women had children with them in prison, some as old as 9 and 10, despite the legal limit of 5 years. At least 195 children were housed in prisons as of 2020.
A critical lack of funding in the prison healthcare system has meant that mothers whose children are with them in prison often lack essential health care, leaving both the women and the children at risk of contracting infections.
One prisoner reported that her child, who had a developmental disability, was not offered any support services or medical care despite the prisoner’s repeated requests during her six years of incarceration.
Pakistan needs urgent and comprehensive prison reform, with a particular focus on the rights of women, children, and at-risk prisoners, the HRW said.
“The Human Rights Ministry report is an opportunity for the Pakistan government to take meaningful steps to improve the treatment of women in prisons in the country and start a much-needed process of systemic, large-scale prison reform,” Adams said. (ANI)