After hearing the heartbreaking details of the Zainab case, the outpouring of outrage and emotions was understandable. However, if we want to ensure that what happened to Zainab never happens to any child again, we must stir away from asking for public punishments and torture, and attempt to question the legal, social and bureaucratic structure that allowed this crime to happen.

A relevant matter to debate to ensure justice in sexual assault cases would be the admissibility of DNA evidence. According to Articles 59 and 164 of the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (QSO) 1984, DNA evidence is viewed as a form of expert evidence, which is regarded as corroboratory evidence, and thus cannot be treated as primary evidence, with the reasoning that DNA evidence is not infallible. It implies that no case can be decided on the basis of expert evidence exclusively without any primary piece of evidence, such as oral evidence (eye witnesses).

While we allow that the legal reasoning of the court makes sense, we must admit that the culture of treating DNA reports, a rising technology in a modern world, is largely mishandled and outdated in the 1984 law. A browsing of rape-cases in Pakistan showcase its minimalistic use, reinforcing the case for the re-evaluation of the present legal framework. Often in rape cases, there is little evidence a woman can muster, as the “4 competent male witnesses” requirement in the QSO is almost impossible.

The QSO largely increased the importance of witnesses, which is fine legally, but weakens cases for women and sexual assault and crimes where the production of witnesses is difficult. The court’s reasoning for viewing DNA evidence as corroborative is outdated and inefficient when one considers the technicalities in the Hudood Ordinance.

There is also dire need for a shift among investigating agencies in their attitudes towards the collection of DNA evidence in all sexual offences. DG Punjab Forensic Science Agency Dr. Tahir reported that in rape cases, police do not take DNA reports seriously, as samples are not collected, stored or packaged properly and evidence gets lost.

That is not to say we shouldn’t be careful. Where there is corroboration there must be, and the admissibility of DNA should not allowed to be mishandled for frivolous adultery cases.

While in the Zainab case, this should not be an issue, since there is corroborative evidence, such as the CCTV video, but this is a matter to be discussed to prevent future tragedies.