by Yash Jain and Ayushi Dubey 11 February 2021
Recently, the Lahore High Court (LHC) of Pakistan, in the case of Sadaf Aziz v. Federation of Pakistan, delivered a seminal ruling holding the two-finger virginity test and hymen examination of rape and sexual abuse unconstitutional. The court held that such tests are violative of personal dignity and have no scientific and forensic value.
Usually, virginity testing is performed as part of medical examination in rape and sexual violence cases to determine whether the victim is sexually active. In other words, it is conducted to judge the virtue of the victim and thus concluding whether the rape is caused or not. It essentially includes the “two-finger test” and “hymen examination.” Pertinently, the court held that the virginity tests outrage the personal dignity of the female victim and therefore is against the “right to life” and “right to dignity” enshrined under Articles 9 and 14 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 (Constitution). Likewise, the virginity test is discriminatory as it is carried out based on gender and violates Article 25 of the Constitution. These rights guarantee life’s existence in a dignified manner and ensure a noble presence in the physical, social, and cultural environment. Moreover, it grants an option to get medical services of a high standard to achieve physical and psychological wellness.
Additionally, numerous international conventions prohibit cruel, undignified, and degrading treatment of humans. The CEDAW Convention of 1979 denounces discrimination against women and prohibits virginity testing as it leads to the denial of women’s rights. The World Health Organization report titled Eliminating Virginity Testing: An Interagency Statement establishes virginity testing as unscientific, medically unnecessary, and unreliable. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, in their statement, notes that virginity testing is not a barometer of sexual intercourse/habituation and health professionals, therefore, have no medical bedrock for conducting virginity examinations. Further, it asserts that such tests are extraneous, causing pain to women both physically and mentally, and serve as a form of social control of their sexuality.
Notably, the LHC relied upon various Indian Supreme Court (SC) and High Court judgements. In the case of Rajesh v. State of Haryana, the SC struck-down the two-finger test, opining that it violates the right of rape survivors to privacy, physical and mental integrity, and dignity. The SC re-iterated and disapproved the two-finger test holding that rape victims are entitled to legal recourse that does not re-traumatize them, and due regards should be given to health while dealing with rape cases. Further, the Gujarat High Court, in the case of State of Gujarat v. Rameshchandra Ramabhai Panchal, viewed the virginity test as an “archaic and outdated” practice, thereby abolishing the trial to protect the victims of sexual abuse from more mental trauma. Moreover, in State of J&K v. Mohd. Imran Khan, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, while dealing with a minor victim case, observed that it is the need of the hour to ban the two-finger test and ordered that courts must desist themselves from disclosing the identity of rape survivors in proceedings and judgements.
Dignity and privacy, the two canons of humanity, are endangered and threatened by performing the two-finger test. Virginity testing is a global crisis as it is invasive, blatant and an outright act of inhumanity, infringing several human rights. The two-finger test can undoubtedly be considered “rape in itself” because it adds to the victim’s suffering, making her condition more vulnerable. Also, the victim’s consent for the test is simply a formality as she is left with no other option but to undergo the test to prove her veracity.
In conclusion, this judgement must be appreciated in light of increasing efforts for human rights protection. The judgment can be seen as a progressive and transformative step to prevent women’s privacy, integrity, and dignity. An end to virginity testing will not only confer women with their devoid rights. Still, it would also encourage many of them to register their cases against rape and sexual abuse, which they had feared doing in the past due to the added trauma of rigorous and inhuman medical examinations.
Bio of Authors
1) Yash Jain is a penultimate year student pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. His interest lies in Human Rights Law and Commercial Laws.
2) Ayushi Dubey is a penultimate year student pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. She has a keen interest in Competition Law and Human Rights Law.