Lawmakers in Pakistan approved on Wednesday new anti-rape legislation that would allow speedy convictions and severe sentences, including chemical castration, for rapists.

The bill is a response to a public outcry against a recent surge in incidents of rape of women and children in the country and growing demands for effectively stemming the crime.

The government will be required to establish special courts across Pakistan to expedite trials of rape suspects and decide cases of sexual abuse “expeditiously, preferably within four months.”

Under the bill, a nationwide register of sex offenders will also be maintained with the help of the National Database and Registration Authority. The identity of victims will be protected and special “anti-rape crisis cells” will be formed to conduct medical examinations of victims within hours of the crimes.

Those found guilty of gang rape will be sentenced to death or imprisoned for the rest of their lives, and repeat offenders could be subjected to chemical castration.

Critics say fewer than 4% of sexual assault or rape cases in Pakistan result in a conviction.

Rights activists welcomed the legislation but stressed the need for improved policing and prosecution to ensure justice for victims of sexual violence.

Legal experts say that rape cases in Pakistan take years to prosecute and that rapists often escape punishment because political influence leads to faulty police investigations. Moreover, rampant corruption in the lower judiciary can also help rapists in seeking favorable verdicts.

The circumstances often discourage women from seeking justice for fear of being shamed or persecuted by police or even their own relatives in the largely conservative Pakistani society.

Electronic voting

Pakistan’s parliament also passed a set of other bills Wednesday allowing electronic voting and granting for first-time expatriate Pakistanis the right to vote in national elections.

All the bills approved will come into force once signed by President Arif Alvi, which is a formality.

Opposition parties in the parliament furiously opposed the electronic voting bill, accusing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government of paving the ground for rigging in the next elections due in 2023.

Ruling party lawmakers rejected charges that the bill was politically motivated and defended the electronic voting bill, saying it would ensure free and fair elections in Pakistan.

Khan took office in 2018 and has been calling for reforming the country’s decades-old election system that features paper ballots and manual vote-counting, leading to allegations of widespread rigging in all previous polls.

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