CHITRAL -- Female and child victims of violence, harassment and other crimes can now visit the Relief Centre for Women and Children in Chitral District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), for free legal services.
KP Police, in collaboration with the Sarhad Rural Support Programme, Chitral District Bar Association and KP Social Welfare Department, established the centre, which opened February 19, to protect women and children against violence.
The centre, situated adjacent to the Chitral city police station, aims to safeguard the rights of women and children and protect them from crimes, Muhsin-ul-Mulk, a Chitral police inspector, told Pakistan Forward.
Muhsin-ul-Mulk's job is to receive complaints regarding women's problems from the 18 police stations in Chitral District and to forward them to the Relief Centre.
"In a male-dominated society, women are reluctant to visit the general police station for complaints, which is why we have assigned female officers to the centre, to allow women to talk freely to them," he said.
Raising awareness, breaking down social taboos
Because many women in Chitral stay in their homes much of the time, the government launched an FM radio programme in local languages to inform them about the new initiative, Muhsin said.
"We are spreading awareness that the public should come to the centre to report sexual harassment, domestic violence, forced and underage marriage and employment, and missing children or women," he said.
The centre is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, he said, adding that the community supports the initiative.
"Local residents are extremely happy over the centre," he said.
The centre already has received three cases that police are investigating, said Sajid Khan, president of the Chitral Bar Associatiion.
"Because of specific circumstances, women often hesitate to contact police stations to lodge complaints in cases of violence and other crimes," he told Pakistan Forward. For that reason, "we have appointed female lawyers to the centre to give free legal services to aggrieved women and children."
"We are scaling up awareness with the public," he said. "We have been hearing about forced and underage marriages and domestic violence against women, but wronged parties aren't filing complaints because of social taboos."
All 18 police stations in Chitral District have been asked to refer such cases to the new centre so that it can address them on a fast-track basis, Khan said.
Women and children require support to end violence against them, he said, adding that the centre is a step in the right direction and will lead to the empowerment of women.
Ending violence against women
The local community has welcomed the new centre, said Nigar Hussain, an official with the KP Social Welfare Department in Peshawar.
"Residents have pinned their hopes that it will resolve the hardships faced by women who are on the receiving end of violence," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that many volunteers have offered their services to help women at the centre.
Semin Begum, 21, a resident of Chitral and a student at the University of Peshawar, praised the opening of the new centre.
"There are many incidents of violence against women taking place now, but nobody reports them to the press or to police," she told Pakistan Forward. "This situation is adding to the problems of women."
Development in Chitral has lagged behind that in other parts of the country, Begum said, which means more centres are needed to ensure women's rights.
"Women play a significant part in the development of nations, and we can utilise their potential only if they have protection against violence and receive equal opportunities for development," she said.