NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 5

Challenges in safeguarding animal rights

A gathering of nearly half a dozen people near Tibba Badar Sher Chowk in Bahawalpur city observed what seemed to be a source of amusement—a donkey-cart, its unfortunate occupant suspended in mid-air. The donkey, a victim of its master’s eagerness to maximize earnings from a supply order, had been swept off its hooves due to the overloaded cart. Despite the laborer-cum-owner’s futile attempts to bring the donkey down without unloading some of the materials, onlookers treated the scene as commonplace.

For Sania Waheed, an A-Levels student from an Islamabad institute visiting her maternal grandparents in Bahawalpur, the sight was painful. She lamented the lack of sympathy shown by most people towards mistreated domesticated animals or stray animals facing trouble. Sania questioned the essence of humanity and adherence to Islamic principles if people failed to follow the Creator’s commands regarding the treatment of all creatures.

Allama Abbas Shirazi emphasized that Allah Almighty has explicitly commanded believers to care for all creatures, including animals, as integral parts of the ecology in every region of the earth. Quoting from the Holy Qur’an, he noted, “There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings, but they are communities like you…”

Highlighting the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) love for animals, Allama Shirazi shared a Hadith stressing the equivalence of good deeds done to animals with those done to humans, and the severity of cruelty towards animals. He recounted stories where the Prophet (PBUH) intervened to rectify wrongs against animals, underscoring the significance of compassion towards them.

The Prophet (PBUH)’s teachings extended to acts such as taking eggs from nests, with emphasis on the need for a just cause even in the context of killing for food. True Muslims, guided by the Quran and Sunnah, reject cruelty towards animals, including overworking, overloading, neglect, hunting for sport, and other harmful practices.

Under the Constitution of Pakistan, the rights of all animals, whether domesticated or wild, are protected. Agha Intizar Ali Imran, a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, emphasized that cruelty towards animals is legally prohibited. Sections 3 to 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890) and the Punjab Animals Slaughter Control Act (1963) stipulate fines and imprisonment for offenses, including the forfeiture of animals to the government.

Agha Imran highlights a case that garnered national and international attention, involving an elephant in Islamabad Zoo. The Islamabad High Court’s landmark ruling acknowledged the natural rights of animals and their entitlement to protection under the Pakistani Constitution. The case encompassed issues of solitary confinement of an elephant, the mistreatment of a bear forced to perform tricks, and the killing of stray dogs. Despite occasional anthropocentric perspectives, the court unequivocally recognized legal rights for animals, emphasizing the need for their protection.

Agha Intizar Ali Imran emphasizes that people can report animal abuse by calling 1819. The law envisions the establishment of an animal ethics committee, imposing penalties on abusers. Notably, shooting and poisoning of animals are explicitly prohibited under Pakistani law.

Pakistan, boasting diverse ecosystems with 177 mammal and 660 bird species, faces challenges in conservation and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the country received a low ranking on the World Animal Protection Index, scoring an overall ‘E’ with an ‘F’ in government accountability and ‘G’ in animal protection. This places Pakistan below India and higher than only a few countries with dismal human rights situations.

Imran notes that animals in zoos and privately owned wild animals both fall under captivity. While the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890 applies to these situations, the responsibility for such wildlife lies with provincial governments, lacking a national zoo policy.

The lawyer expresses regret that most provincial wildlife ordinances do not regulate animals. Regarding privately held wild animals, the Northern Areas Wildlife Preservation Act 1975 requires permission from the Chief Wildlife Warden for scientific purposes or inclusion in a ‘recognized’ zoo.

Concerning pet or companion animals, while Articles 3 and 5 of the PCTAA may apply, there are no specific provisions for them. Despite Article 429 of the Pakistan Penal Code criminalizing offenses against animals of value above Rs50, instances of inhumane acts, like culling stray animals, persist.

Imran acknowledges the potential of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890 as a foundation for animal rights, recognizing that animals experience pain and suffering. However, he notes that this acknowledgment has not been explicitly incorporated into other legislation.


(The writer is a physician by profession. She has worked as an intern at the Capital Health (New Jersey) & the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital (New York). Rights and gender issues are the areas of special interest to her. She can be reached at: [email protected])