Over 900 women prisoners in Punjab jails lack healthcare, legal aid facilities

    More than 900 women are currently imprisoned in jails across Punjab province under various offenses but their ordeal is exacerbated due to a disregard for their hygiene, privacy, and safety, according to a media report.

    “In prisons across the province no one does anything to address feminine hygiene or increase access to healthcare for female inmates,” says Advocate Rabbiya Bajwa. She added that infections like jaundice, tuberculosis, and cholera were rampant in jails.

    The lawyer says that the situation of pregnant female prisoners was even worse. “They are not given the required nutritional support that is needed during pregnancy nor is there any concept of prenatal healthcare,” she adds.

    According to rights activist Syeda Farah Hashmi, the plight of female inmates in Punjab jails was an understatement.

    “Prisons for women do not even have lady doctors, so the female inmates are reluctant to seek help,” says Syeda, adding that this was one of the reasons why allergies and skin diseases were common amongst female prisoners.

    Presently, a huge chunk of the total incarcerated women population of Punjab is based in four cities of the province with Central Jail Lahore in the first place with 134 female prisoners, followed by Central Jail Rawalpindi which has 125, Multan Women Jail which has 92, and District Jail Faisalabad which has 86.

    Even though they are four of the biggest cities of Punjab province, Rabbiya says that discrimination in access to legal aid is prevalent, which results in prolonged incarcerations for women.

    “Even in the bigger cities, female inmates do not receive timely legal aid, which deprives them of the right to bail and their cases linger on for years,” she says.

    The lawyer opined that the justice system already posed several challenges for women; hence it was the state’s job to provide legal aid to female prisoners in particular.

    Apart from the lack of access to legal aid, Rabbiya believes that the government has done little to ensure the rights of women prisoners.

    “There is no check and balance mechanism in the prisons. Resultantly, the privacy of female inmates is violated and some even face sexual harassment. However, the staff is never held accountable,” she adds.

    According to Punjab Inspector General (IG) Prisons Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig, steps were being taken to improve the situation of women prisoners.

    “Presently, women prisoners are being treated according to the jail rules,” Mirza claimed.

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