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Landmark Law Protects Women Against Violence in Pakistani Province

Naziran, 25, an acid victim, knits at a rehabilitation center of the Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad.

Lawmakers in the country’s largest province supported a move to give unprecedented protection to female victims of violence in an attempt to curb gender-related abuse in Pakistan, which has been ranked as the world’s third most dangerous place for women.

The new law, passed February 25, criminalizes all forms of violence against women -- domestic, psychological, and sexual -- and calls for a toll-free abuse-reporting hot line and shelters for victims.

Home to roughly 190 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim, Pakistan has thousands of cases of violence against women every year, from rape and acid attacks to sexual assault, kidnappings and so-called "honor killings."

"The instances of violence against women have been on the increase, primarily because the existing legal system does not effectively address the menace and violence by some that is perpetrated with impunity," said the text of the legislation passed by the Punjab assembly.

More than 5,800 cases of violence against women were reported in 2013 Punjab alone, according to the Aurat Foundation, a women's rights advocacy group. Those cases represented 74 percent of the national total that year, the latest for which data is available.

The new law establishes district-level panels to investigate reports of abuse, and mandates the use of GPS bracelets to keep track of offenders. It also sets punishments of up to a year in jail for violators of court orders related to domestic violence, with that period rising to two years for repeat offenders.

Rights groups welcomed the law, but warned that its implementation remained a concern.

With reporting by Asad Hashim for Reuters