Women rights body Naripokkho has demanded that the flawed and age-old Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 (amended in 2013) be revised and made time-befitting to ensure punishment for the culprits as most accused slip through the loopholes.
Activists say when most of the women and children do not disclose information of sexual violence and harassment fearing stigma and reprisal, those who seek justice face obstacles in every phase of the legal procedure.
Moreover, the accused in most cases get acquittal or are relieved due to poor investigation reports and reluctance of the prosecution lawyers. In many cases, police and local influential people force the victims’ families to keep mum or accept compensation after so-called arbitration.
A Naripokkho study has found that 3,588 cases out of 11,864 filed under the Act in six districts – Dhaka, Jamalpur, Jhenaidah, Sirajganj, Joypurhat and Noakhali – between 2011 and 2015 have been disposed of.
But only 18 cases – filed for rape (four), dowry (six), abduction (seven) and acid attack (one) – saw conviction of the perpetrators.
The accused were relieved from charges in 2,523 cases while 1,047 got acquittal. Trial of the 8,276 other cases are currently under way, the rights group said Friday, the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women.
Naripokkho observes that a fast and flawless legal process can curb the incidents of sexual harassment and violence significantly.
Urging the government to modernise the law, senior member of Naripokkho UM Habibunnesa said: “The text of the existing law has technical faults while the definition of offences in the Act need to be modified since the law was prepared on the basis of a century-old society.”
Naripokkho monitored 60 of the 11, 864 cases filed in the last five years, and found that in most of the cases, the victims and their families are often discouraged to seek legal action due to the lengthy procedure.
“We have seen that it takes around 10 months from the submission of charge sheet to indictment of the accused. Even the plaintiffs have to pay money to the public prosecutor on every scheduled day,” she told the Dhaka Tribune Friday.
The study found that the survivors are harassed and verbally abused while filing a case at the police station, undergoing medical tests at the hospital and facing defence questions at the court.
Giving example of rape cases, Habibunnesa said: “The discriminatory Evidence Act allows defence lawyers to interrogate the victim and question her character. If proved, the accused may get released in such cases.”
Stressing long-term counselling, she said that because of the sexual offences perpetrated on the women, the survivors cannot easily come out of the trauma. They often feel ashamed to lead a normal life outside home like before and cannot sleep well. Sometimes they are censured and blamed by the family members for the situation, the study finds.