Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pakistan bolsters harassment laws

Pakistani women protest - file pic
Women's rights groups say Pakistan's justice system is biased against women

Pakistan's parliament has approved a bill increasing the penalty for those convicted of sexually harassing women.

The bill increases the prison term for "outraging the modesty of women" from one to three years. It also imposes a 50,000 rupee fine.

It was supported by both opposition and government lawmakers.

The bill is the latest in a series introduced by the current government to improve the status of women in Pakistani society.

The laws aim to provide security and improve the status of Pakistani women, who correspondents say remain one of the most discriminated-against sectors of Pakistani society.

'Attitudes must change'

"This bill will be especially empowering for women who work as domestic workers," said MP and former information minister Sherry Rehman.

Ms Rehman, who is one of the driving forces behind the latest spate of legislation, said the law would go a long way towards protecting low-income female workers.

The bill also allows for sexual harassment cases to be heard in higher courts.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says that because of a combination of cultural norms and laws based on interpretations of Islamic Sharia law, Pakistan's justice system has been heavily biased against women.

Until recently, a rape victim was likely to be convicted of "unlawful sex" or adultery if she registered a complaint - for which the maximum penalty under Sharia law is death.

Those laws have now been amended.

But rights activists maintain that the real battle is to change attitudes in Pakistan's male-dominated society.

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