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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Sexual harassment plagues Bangladesh's public transports

  • Challenges persist despite efforts to combat harassment
  • Study calls for urgent legislation
Update : 08 Mar 2024, 06:41 PM

Despite efforts from various organizations, including women's rights groups, sexual harassment of women has been rampant on public transport in Bangladesh, with incidents ranging from unwanted touching to verbal abuse and even rape.

A Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) report, published on Tuesday, reveals alarming statistics: 35.2% of female bus passengers have experienced sexual harassment, with rates higher on city buses (42.6%) compared to inter-district buses (31.3%). Among victims, 83.2% were harassed by fellow passengers and 64.3% by the driver’s assistant.

A study titled "Sexual Harassment in Public Transport in Dhaka: A Socio-legal Assessment," featured in the December edition of the Asian Journal of Social Science and Legal Studies, underscores the critical need for appropriate legislation to address the prevalent legal gaps in tackling sexual crimes on public transport across the country.

The study, conducted by Humayun Kabir and Shariful Islam, who teach at Green University, reveals that female students experience the highest rates of sexual harassment across various modes of public transport, including buses, minibuses, and human hauliers (leguna). Only 1.17% of working women and 2.75% of students said they had never experienced any form of harassment while travelling on these modes of transportation.

Meanwhile, 34.51% of working women, housewives, and students said they had been harassed on multiple occasions.

Additionally, 35.29% of employed women and 56.86% of students disclosed being subjected to sexual harassment on public transport. The majority of the time, fellow passengers (75%), bus conductors (20%), and bus drivers (5%), were the perpetrators.

Although the government has endeavoured to curb harassment in public transport, officials remain unable to provide explanations for its persistence.

"We have observed women facing harassment from drivers and their assistants in different modes of transportation. Besides initiating legal action, we have implemented programs to promote respectful behaviour in them. Awareness stickers have been affixed to every bus to raise awareness among passengers, drivers, and their assistants,” said ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, secretary of the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges.

He acknowledged the challenge of pinpointing why harassment persisted despite these efforts but highlighted that awareness campaigns had mitigated the issue to some extent.

Several non-governmental organizations are actively engaged in initiatives to combat sexual harassment on public transport. Nonetheless, there is a perception among some that the persistence of this crime is attributable to the absence of targeted legislation against harassment and inadequate discipline within the public transport sector.

Samira Akhter, general secretary of the Aachol Foundation, said the organization had developed ten specific proposals to address harassment on public transport. “These suggestions include restricting passenger numbers, installing CCTV cameras, mandating nameplates identifying bus staff, holding mobile courts for swift trials, and conducting public awareness initiatives."

Sanjida Ahmed, a women's rights activist and advocate at the Supreme Court, highlighted the absence of dedicated laws or regulations to deter harassment of women on public transport.

"Nevertheless, certain sections of the Penal Code and the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act include provisions addressing harassment on public transport, offering some avenues for recourse. Without government intervention to enact explicit legislation to combat this crime, such incidents are likely to persist," she added.

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