Pakistan Passes Ordinance Allowing Chemical Castration of Sex Offenders
A new ordinance just went into effect in Pakistan that allows the State to chemically castrate sex offenders. It comes in response to national outcry over the gang-rape of a woman outside Lahore, after which the city’s police implied the victim was partially at fault for the crime committed against her. The crime, and the official reaction to it, led to nationwide demonstrations, putting pressure on the government to act quickly to quell the discontent and appear to be vigilant about sex crimes.
The ordinance is active until the Pakistani parliament can pass a permanent law. The punishment it mandates — chemical castration — has led some critics in Pakistan to voice concern that the ordinance may be too harsh.
Pakistan joins a handful of countries around the world, including Poland, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, and some states in the United States, where chemical castration is a legal punishment, primarily doled out to convicted child sexual abusers. In these places, chemical castration is either used as mandatory punishment for sex offenders, as an optional ‘treatment’ that functions as an alternative to a prison term, or as a requirement for the offender to be released back into society after they’ve served their prison sentence.
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Chemical castration involves injecting the offender with a drug that lowers their libido by manipulating their testosterone levels. The premise is that lowering a sex offender’s sexual drive will decrease their urge to commit sexual abuse. But there is no evidence to support the practice. The popularity of chemical castration presupposes that sex offenders act out of an uncontrollable, heightened sex drive when they decide to sexually abuse another person, which is false. Rape and sexual abuse are seldom about sex itself; these forms of violence are about asserting dominance, exerting power, and overpowering another person’s agency. Rape stems not from a person’s biology, but from their psychology, which makes the practice of non-consensually altering a sex offender’s hormone levels a human rights issue.
It’s exactly what a three-member committee stated back in 2013 after India was taking stock of laws tackling sexual violence in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case that shocked the world. “We note that it would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with basic human rights treaties for the state to expose any citizen without their consent to potentially dangerous medical side effects,” its decisive report stated, rejecting chemical castration.
Even if the sex offenders’ personal human rights are not to be considered (though they should be), chemical castration doesn’t accomplish what its advocates say it does. If the goal is deterrence — either to prevent the sex offender from reoffending or to create fear in others who are considering similar crimes — the barbaric practice of punishment by chemical castration does not have enough conclusive evidence to back up its efficacy or relevance as a deterrent.
In the end, allowing chemical castration against sex offenders may be an aggressive, performative move designed to allay the outrage of a population, but it’s best if governments don’t kid themselves about its success. Punishment by chemical castration is simply another way to destroy the fabric of human rights in a country, while ignoring the roots of a pervasive sexual violence problem.