Pakistan's parliament has passed a landmark law aimed at strengthening protection for women facing economic and social discrimination through practices such as forced marriage, the Express Tribune reported on Wednesday.
The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act prohibits and punishes exploitative practices such as depriving women of inheritance, forcing them into marriage to settle personal or family disputes, bartering them or making them marry the Koran.
"The act, hailed by commentators as a show of collective resolve by political parties to fight social taboos against women,... outlines strong punishments for social practices like wanni, swara or budla-i-sulh, wherein women are traded to settle personal, family or tribal disputes," said the newspaper.
"For the first time, the bill proposes a minimum benchmark for penalising those involved in 'anti-women practices'," it said.
Under the new law, denying a woman her inheritance can result in up to 10 years in jail or a fine of one million rupees ($11,535), or both. Forced marriages are also punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 rupees ($5,770).
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani welcomed the passage of the bill, and pledged to support its implementation, according to the report.
The bill has been waiting approval for three years and has twice been deferred by parliament, with some male legislators unhappy about setting a minimum punishment and giving women inheritance rights, the paper said.
Women in Pakistan, as well as in other parts of South Asia, face a barrage of threats, from physical and sexual violence such as honour killings and trafficking, to social and economic exclusion in terms of education, health and rights to property and land.