Pakistan court bans invasive ‘virginity tests’ of rape victims

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A provincial high court in Pakistan has outlawed the “humiliating” two-finger “virginity” tests during rape examinations, a decision welcomed by human rights campaigners.

The ruling, which has been passed in Punjab province, means women will no longer have to undergo the invasive test which checks for an intact hymen.

The Lahore High Court judge, Ayesha A. Malik called the tests “a humiliating practice” that only serves to “cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused and the incident of sexual violence.”

Justice Malik added that the tests were “humiliating” and “had no forensic value”.

The ruling followed two petitions filed in Punjab province by rights activists who have long demanded an end to virginity tests as part of the medical evaluation in rape cases, saying they have no scientific basis.

Monday’s ruling applies in Punjab but may serve as a precedent for petitions in other provincial high courts. A similar petition is currently pending in the Sindh High Court.

Sameer Khosa, a lawyer representing the petitioners in the Lahore case, told the BBC the ruling had “established very clearly that the virginity test has no forensic value in any case involving sexual violence”.

Mr. Khosa said he hoped the relevant authorities would “reset their procedures in the light of this ruling and say goodbye to the virginity tests forever”.

The “two-finger test” is performed manually by inserting one or two fingers into a woman’s vagina to test for its laxity and for the presence of a hymen – in theory to determine whether or not the woman is sexually active and to what extent.

Some doctors claim the test can determine if a woman has been penetrated for the first time, and the test has been used to discredit victims of rape who are judged to be sexually experienced.

The World Health Organisation has categorically debunked the test, saying it has no scientific merit and is a human rights violation.

In her ruling, Justice Malik said the test was “highly invasive” and had “no scientific or medical requirement”.

Sahar Bandial, one of the lawyers who filed the petition in the Lahore case, said the tests were used to discredit women based on unscientific assessments of their sexual history.

“There is an inference that the woman is of easy virtue and likely to have consented to sexual activity,” Ms. Bandial said.

Women rights campaigners have long argued that the so-called virginity test is part of a traditional patriarchal culture that shifts blame onto women in the event of sexual assaults.

Despite the court decision, invasive “virginity tests” continue in Pakistan, and remain legal in parts of the country not affected by the ruling in Lahore.

The practice has been in force in the South Asian region since the colonial era and has been documented in at least 20 countries worldwide, according to the UN and WHO.

In recent years, both organisations have campaigned for an end to the practice globally. (Source: BBC)

 

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