On February 1 this year, a nine-year-old girl was raped in Rampura. When her father, a security guard, went to lodge a rape case at the Rampura police station, he found that the station did not have a desk to deal with cases of sexual harassment or abuse against women or children.
When questioned by the Dhaka Tribune about this, Rampura police station Officer-in-Charge Proloy Kumar Shah said there was no specific desk or department to deal with such cases because the station had limited space.
“We have appointed women police officials to provide support in such cases,” he explained.
Although some police stations in the Dhaka metropolitan area have separate desks to deal with such cases most police stations countrywide do not, despite direct instructions from the Police Headquarters to set up a separate desk at each station for issues relating to women and children.
At different programmes, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Haque and the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said they had asked the district police superintendents and metropolitan area deputy commissioners to set up such desks at every police station.
According to Police Headquarters’ instructions, the authorities have to assign a separate official, preferably a sub-inspector and, if possible, a female one, to be in charge of a desk which will deal with sexual harassment and abuse of children and women.
In 2011, the High Court issued a directive asking the authorities concerned to set up a separate cell or team in every police station to deal with and work on the prevention of sexual harassment and abuse.
In spite of that, six years have passed and the majority of the police stations still have not taken up the initiative.
When visiting several police stations, including the Motijheel, Paltan, Khilgaon, Rampura, Shabagh, Dhanmondi, Demra, Mirpur Model, Shah Ali, Tejgaon I/A, Lalbagh, Chawk Bazar police stations, this correspondent found that none had any desk allocated to working on cases relating to women and children.
When questioned about this, police officials said most police stations did not have a desk specifically assigned to working on cases relating to women and children, but usually assigned female police officials to handle such cases on a case-by-case basis.
However, DMP Deputy Commissioner (Media) Masudur Rahman claimed that they had set up help desks for women and children at every police station in line with the Police Headquarters’ instructions.
“If there these desks have not been set up in every police station, then we will look into it,” he added.
“Most court directives go unheeded, just like this one,” human rights activist Nur Khan Liton told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to him, women and children often do not want to file complaints when they are sexually or socially harassed because the police stations have failed to provide them with the basic resources needed for them to comfortably come forward with their issues.
He added that in cases of sexual harassment or abuse in Bangladesh, most often, women bear the brunt of the blame.
“Not only are they the victims of the act itself, when they go to file complaints, they are further victimised by comments from and negligence on the part of the police,” explained Liton, the former executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra.
“Many will come forward to file complaints if the government strictly enforces the directives,” he added.