Over 160,751 cases remain pending under the Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act with various courts across the country
Although cases of violence against women and children occur daily all across Bangladesh, few of them are reported, and even fewer win the legal battle to bring home justice.
Till January 1 this year, a total of a staggering 160,751 cases, filed under the Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act, remained pending with various courts within the country, according to the Supreme Court.
The trial proceedings in a further 930 cases were put on hold, after the High Court issued stay orders, the Supreme Court data shows.
Every day, hundreds of women and children are denied justice due to the unusually long time it takes to dispose off these cases.
The delayed justice lends impunity to those already accused, and gives encouragement to newer ones, providing no respite on violent crimes committed against women and children, rights groups say.
Tonu, Sima yet to get justice
Although the latest incident of Feni madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi's gruesome murder under the instructions of her sexual harasser sparked controversy, and concern in all quarters, this sort of an incident is nothing new.
Comilla Victoria College student Shohagi Jahan Tonu was raped, and murdered inside the secure confinements of Mainamati Cantonment in Comilla on March 20, 2016. But her family remains hungry for justice as police are yet to complete investigations in the case.
Thousands of cases remain pending for more than five years. According to the Supreme Court, among the total of 67,867 cases filed across the country, from January 1-December 31, 2018, only 36,469 cases have been undergoing trial, alas, for more than five years.
The Supreme Court data shows that 67,857 cases were filed from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018 across the country. Of them, 8,483 cases were filed in Dhaka, 12,155 in Chattogram, 6,015 in Cumilla, 3736 in Sirajganj, 2,622 in Habiganj, and 2,334 cases in Rangpur.
A total of 36,469 out of the 67,857 cases are pending for more than five years, including 1,904 cases with nine tribunals in Dhaka, 1,130 in Gazipur, 2,594 in seven tribunals in Chattagram, 1,357 in Cox’s bazar, 1,061 in two tribunals in Noakhali, 1,533 in Nagaon, 2,146 in two tribunals in Sirajganj, 1,800 in Bagerhat, and 2,555 in three tribunals in Rangpur.
Some cases take more than 10 years to get disposed off, and then there are the ones that take 20-25 years.
In 1988, Sima Mohammadi was brutally murdered inside her own house at Jagannath Saha Road in Dhaka by Mohammad Ahmad Amin – who had failed to secure her hand in marriage after her family refused – but 27 years have passed without her case coming to a conclusion.
The trial is still stuck at the Dhaka Jono Nirapotta Tribunal, and police are yet to arrest the sole accused in the case, Amin, who absconded soon after the murder.
According to a recent research done by Action Aid Bangladesh, only 3% victims are getting justice in the cases over violence against women. The rest of the 97% remain deprived.
The non-government research organization analyzed 2,800 incidents of violence in 20 districts, and found that every four out of five cases take two years just to get the trial proceedings started in courts.
This culture of delay, and impunity has resulted in a sharp rise of violence on women and children, rights activists say.
Insufficient courts, culture of impunity leading to delays
Mostofa Sohel Ahmed, executive director of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR), blamed the culture of impunity, political unrest, social degradation, absence of enough cultural activists, lack of values, and spread of technology for the rise in violence against women.
"We have demanded for the formation of a special tribunal for quick disposal of the cases," Sohel said.
Human rights lawyer Advocate Salma Ali told the Dhaka Tribune: "The trial in women and children's violence cases are progressing at a snail's pace, though there is a provision in the law to dispose off these cases within 180 days."
She said, in many cases it was found that the police were wasting time while submitting probe reports, although there is the rule is to submit them within 15 days, if the accused is arrested, or within 30 days if not.
"Those who are seeking justice are getting deprived because of the slow place," Salma said. "And culprits keep getting released from the charges through legal loopholes."
Former Executive Director of Ain O Salish Kendra (Ask), Advocate Sultana Kamal blamed delays in submission of probe reports, the influential status of the accused, negligence of concerned lawyers, and lack of sufficient courts to conduct trials, as the reasons behind the delay in these cases.
She also said, many accused come out on bail through legal loopholes. The culprits also use their influence to cause delays in the trial proceedings.
Sultana urged the government to take initiatives to increase the skills of concerned lawyers, and judges to deal with these cases.
She suggested forming of a special observation cell with the Law Ministry, and the Supreme Court to ensure quick disposal of the cases.
National Human Right Commission (NHRC) Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said, the trials in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals are delayed a lot of times because of the absence of witnesses, and lack of proper investigation into the case.
He also cited the insufficient number of courts in comparison to the population, and the social or political influence of the accused for the delays.
Reazul also asked the government to take special initiatives to dispose of the cases quickly.
"The punishment for the culprits will curb the torture of women and children across the country," he said.