Pakistan’s national assembly has voted to amend the country’s strict Sharia laws on rape and adultery.
Until now rape cases were dealt with in Sharia courts. Victims had to have four male witnesses to the crime – if not they faced prosecution for adultery.
Now civil courts will be able to try rape cases, assuming the upper house and the president ratify the move.
The reform has been seen as a test of President Musharraf’s stated commitment to a moderate form of Islam.
«It is a historic bill because it will give rights to women and help end excesses against them,» Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told parliament after the vote.
Religious parties boycotted the vote, saying the bill encouraged «free sex».
A woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours in Pakistan, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission.
Correspondents say these figures are probably an under-estimation as many rapes are not reported.
Campaigners say Pakistan’s laws have made it virtually impossible to prosecute rape.
Attempts to pass a new bill failed in September in the face of angry opposition.
The version of the Women’s Protection Bill put before legislators then caused such an outcry that parliament was prorogued.
It would have allowed alleged rapists to be tried under civil as well as Islamic law.
Gen Musharraf has said women need to be better protected
Human rights activists said this would have created confusion, allowing powerful religious lobbies to manipulate what is seen as a weak judicial system.