The Sindh Human Rights Commission, an independent statutory body, has recently issued guidance to the police in Pakistan’s Sindh province to cease the harassment and arrest of transgender individuals. This represents a significant step towards eliminating discriminatory laws, policies, and public attitudes in the region. The commission has invoked constitutional protections and international legal principles in its decision, stating that offenses based on poverty and homelessness should be removed. This will ensure that transgender women, as well as street children, will no longer face criminal charges for behavior undertaken merely to survive.
In a similar vein, the Sindh Cabinet approved reserved seats for transgender individuals on local councils in January, guaranteeing that each council will have at least one transgender representative. Furthermore, in December, the Sindh government extended the benefits of the Benazir Income Support Program to transgender people, the country’s largest social safety net. Previously, the BISP provided targeted subsidies to women from low-income households.
While these recent measures taken by Sindh provide some hope for ending discrimination and persecution of transgender people in the province, there is still much to be done by Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments. According to Amnesty International, 18 transgender people were reported murdered in Pakistan between September 2021 and October 2022, demonstrating that discrimination and violence against this community is widespread, despite legal provisions protecting them.
In 2009, Pakistan’s Supreme Court called on all provincial governments to recognize the rights of transgender people. The judgment specifically called for improved police response to cases involving transgender people and ensured the right of transgender people to basic education, employment, and protection. In 2018, the parliament passed a law that broadly protects the rights of trans people. However, in recent years, some politicians have attacked the law and proposed regressive amendments.
The recognition and support for transgender people’s basic rights to security and dignity in Sindh reflect the long-standing advocacy efforts of activists. Still, unless Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments take concrete action against violence, including bringing those responsible for attacks on transgender people to justice, these communities will continue to be at risk.