The prisons in Pakistan are one of the most overcrowded ones in the world. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that prison cells, designed for a maximum of three people hold up to 15 inmates on average. The report mentioned that as of 2022, most of 91 jails in the country are 100% over capacity. As per one 19-year-old inmate, “I was there in summer [June and July] and we had one fan which only worked half the time due to power outages. In the Lahore heat, with the perspiration and sweat of seven people in a tiny room, it was like being baked alive.” And this is about the male prisoners which gets some attention in media or social discussion.
On the other hand, the female prisoners and their plight is relatively less discussed topic in Pakistan. Although the females went through more serious issues including physical, mental, and above-all family issues including children born in jails. The report, ‘A Nightmare for Everyone’ highlighted the condition of women inmates. “Women in the criminal justice system routinely experience prejudice, discrimination, and abuse, and face enormous difficulties accessing health care,” the report mentioned. Talking about one of the most important, yet rarely talked topic, women’s menstruation hygiene, the report mentioned that it the most neglected area. “It is extremely difficult for us to speak about menstruation to a male prison official due to social taboos and embarrassment,” one of the female prisoners said.
Then the rights body talks about the most important thing for our society, the “honour”. In Pakistan, the women prisoners are abandoned by their families and prisoner officials know that and they take full advantage of that. “No one comes to visit them and hence the prison authorities know that no one is willing to pay any [bribe] money for their better treatment,” they say.
Another report mentioned that the female inmates do not get any legal assistance. Syeda Farah Hashmi, head of an NGO working for rights of imprisoned women said: “Even in the bigger cities female inmates do not receive timely legal aid, which deprives them of the right to bail and their cases linger on for years.” Confirming the reports, Inspector General Prisons, Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig said that there is “no check and balance mechanism in the prisons, leading to privacy violations and even sexual harassment of female prisoners.”
According to a research paper ‘Plight of Female Prisoners in Pakistan’ Justice Project Pakistan revealed in 2014 that there was compelling evidence of abuse against 134 female prisoners, of which 82 had to sexual abuse in Faisalabad prison. The same paper highlighted that most of the women are detained before they were convicted of any felony or criminal offense. “As of mid-2020, out of 1,121 women prisoners in Punjab, 66% had not been convicted of any offense and were detained while awaiting conclusion of their trial by the courts.”
The above data and numbers clearly show that the plight of female inmates is bad and getting worse by every passing day, especially in last few days, when police and law enforcement agencies tortured female political workers while reports emerged that they were kept in male lockups and even tortured. And sadly, it is evident that no ruling party would focus on this issue anytime soon, maybe because there is no political scoring on this issue.
“There is an exigent need for the government to make genders sensitive training available in all Pakistani prisons. Like pregnant women, lactating mothers have certain health and nutritional requirements which need to be fulfilled. Meals of high nutritional value should be provided regularly and flexibly to breastfeeding mothers and their newborn babies,” notes Kokab Jabeen, an associate professor at the Department of Pathology, Ameer-ud-Din Medical College, Lahore.