On September 14, Prime Minister Imran Khan called for rapists and child molesters to be “chemically castrated”.
“Do surgery so that they can’t do anything more in the future,” he suggested, adding that rape cases should also be graded in degrees, like murder cases. He was speaking in an interview in Urdu with Hard Talk Pakistan on 92 News.
“Whoever is a first degree [rapist], they should be castrated,” he said. “Do an operation and make them useless.”
His comments were pegged to the motorway rape case that has made headlines in Pakistan. On September 9, two men raped a woman in front of her children after she ran out of fuel near Lahore’s Gujjarpura on her way to Gujranwala. After the rape was reported in the media, people across the country were enraged and demanded the perpetrators be punished in the most gruesome way possible.
The prime minister mentioned chemical castration and everyone is talking about it, but what exactly does it entail?
What is chemical castration?
Chemical castration has nothing to do physically damaging a man’s penis and neither does it involve burning it with acid.
Chemical castration is the use of anaphrodisiac drugs or chemicals that repress sexual desire. They are administered to reduce testosterone levels which stems libido. Testosterone is the main hormone linked to libido and sexual function.
Unlike surgical castration, in which the genitals are removed (testicles to be specific), chemical castration is not a one-time thing and requires repeated monitored doses at regular intervals.
According to a study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, chemical castration is no longer effective after it is discontinued. The procedure also has severe side effects. Drugs used for chemical castration not only lower testosterone levels but also estrogen levels. Estrogen is a hormone needed for bone growth and maturation and brain and heart function. A loss of estrogens can lead to bone thinning or osteoporosis, heart disease and metabolism problems. Estrogen decline is also associated with depression, hot flashes, infertility and anemia.
Another study shows that chemical castration treats sex offenders that fall in two broad categories. For patients with obsessive sexual fantasies, antidepressants from the family of SSRIs are often prescribed to help them control their compulsive sexual thoughts. The second approach is using an anaphrodisiac/anti-androgen drug which reduces testosterone levels.
Countries such as the US, UK, South Korea, Indonesia, Germany, Denmark and Sweden have laws for chemical castration against sexual offenders but this procedure is voluntary in them.
According to Reema Omer, senior legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists, across the world, chemical castration is used on pedophiles and child harassers. “It is basically used as an alternative to jail time for convicts who have underlying psychological issues and are likely to go back into society and commit the crime again,” she told SAMAA Digital.
The process serves as a “rehabilitation for the suspects and is used as a parole,” she added. “The process requires an entire procedure and is voluntary.”
The procedure will only be done if the convict opts for it because it is spread across a period of three to four years, she said, adding that only a handful of countries have used it, and that too with tightly regulated policies.
Punishing sex offenders with chemical castration has been introduced in nine states in the US. It is discretionary for first-time offenders and mandatory for repeat offenders as a pre-condition for release from jail or release on parole.
Omer said it doesn’t make sense for the prime minister to talk about chemical castration as punishment because child abusers and adult rapists are two very different categories. “Research and studies show that the psychology of these convicts is different and the prime minister’s statement just increases confusion.”
Chemical castration was also proposed by a number of politicians in India after the Delhi gang rape case in 2012. The J Verma Committee constituted for law reform after the case, however, rejected it.
A report by the committee read that, “chemical castration fails to treat the social foundations of rape which is about power and sexually deviant behavior”.
“We note that it would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties for the State to expose a citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side effects. For this reason, we do not recommend mandatory chemical castration of any type as a punishment for any type of punishment for sex offenders,” it stated.
This report clearly means that chemical castration mistakenly considers sexual violence a crime of lust and not dominance and violence, Omer said. She explained that chemical castration as a punishment for rape in Pakistan does not make sense as the country already has a good law against rapists. According to the law, a convict of gang rape is subject to life imprisonment.
“The problem in Pakistan is not of punishment but of conviction,” she said. “At least 95% of rape suspects in the country never get convicted because of the flaws in the system,” she said.
In a National Assembly session on Tuesday, Federal Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry pointed out that there is no point in talking about increasing punishment for rapists when Pakistan can’t even convict them. He said the country’s conviction rate in rape cases is 5%.
There are 5,000 reported rapes in Pakistan every year, he said, and if we were to count the unreported rapes there would be thousands more. There is a 5% conviction rate. In 2019, Chaudhry said there were 3,881 cases, which is 581 more than 2018. If those, 190 were gang rapes.
The only way to stop rapes is to strengthen the criminal justice system: the police, medical, court and jail. We need reforms, he said.
Omer, on the other hand, revealed that according to international research on when a rape suspect thinks of committing a crime, they fear conviction instead of punishment. “In our country, things become even more easy because the perpetrator knows that he will never be caught and even if he is, release or bail will be very easy.”
Legal Aid Society’s Maliha Zia is of a similar opinion. She told SAMAA Digital that deterrence of rape crimes is not punishment but conviction. “If you want to give higher penalties, you need to have higher evidence as well, which in Pakistan never happens.”
Zia said that the country’s police and judicial system are not equipped to adequately investigate rape cases and the proceedings just add to the trauma of the rape survivor. “In 99% of cases, male judges (who are a majority in the country) have no sympathy for the survivor and the police will always suggest they withdraw the case or go for a settlement.”
She added that the prime minister, instead of focusing on punishments, should work on creating sexual awareness and educating the community about rape.
Human rights concerns
Across the world, one of biggest concerns surrounding chemical castration relates to human rights. Feminist activist and researcher Sara Zaman called the punishment “cruel and unusual”.
“The procedure is a clear violation to the fundamental right to privacy,” she said, adding that it has also been banned by multiple international covenants such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Even in countries where chemical castration has been implemented, questions have been raised on the ethical concerns of the approach.
Lawyer Omer explained that such punishments date to pre-modern times and are not acceptable in modern societies. “This is clear invasion of a person’s body and his personal space and cannot be done without consent.”
She added that the procedure is not even always successful and there was no scientific proof guaranteeing reduction in sexual desire.
In 2015, when the Indonesian government added the procedure in its legislation, it was met with a massive protest from medical experts who refused to be part of it. They said that the act was a “violation to the country’s medical ethics”.