Women in Bangladesh desperately need better legislation in the fight against sexual violence
Any kind of oppression -- whether in the form of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, throwing acid, kidnapping, sexual harassment, which makes people vulnerable and susceptible to social and mental and physical traumas -- results in near-perpetual sufferings.
In an era of globalization, where the newer generations have access to much more information compared to generations past, and are continuously growing in intellect in a myriad different sectors, as human beings, we do very little to overcome the fight against such continuous violence, and refrain from standing firm against these crimes.
We do have a constitution, and laws in our country to support, guide, and protect us. However, due to loopholes, sometimes the offender gets away with the crimes being committed, and at the same time, the victims suffer irreparable losses. For instance, in reported rape cases (which are perhaps a fraction of the total number anyway) only 3% are convicted, which is quite alarming and fairly disturbing.
Some reforms have been proposed through different judgments in order to eradicate the current issues faced. With regards to a writ petition filed in 2015, we got a judgment in 2018 by Justice Farah Mahbub in a case where the petitioners were naripokkho and others, which gave us some directives in the form of guidelines, which perhaps could be implemented in the respective fields, at least until such a vacuum of the absence of concrete legislation is being filled up by enactments by the legislature.
The judgment included the following:
λ All information to commission of cognizable offense including rape and assault should be reduced to writing without any discrimination or any delays.
λ Every police station needs to have a round-the-clock female police officer
λ At all stages, the identity of the victim needs to be kept confidential
λ Interpretation services need to be there for disabled or handicapped victims
λ The victim support centre should be discreet, and should at all times have all the facilities for recovery of the victim and any failure of duty on the part of the investigating agency in collecting the report or causing the victim to be taken to the nearest hospital for medical examination would be a punishable offense amongst others.
These appear to be very effective directives to combat the current issues. On the other hand, witness protection and victims’ protection is also needed, so that without any fear or dilemma, they can rightfully give the evidence, paving a way to access to the justice system.
A victim’s testimony is often the best and only evidence against an accused, particularly in rape cases. Unfortunately, they are often subjected to threats, are reluctant to file cases, or are also compelled to withdraw cases by negotiating with the other parties involved.
In 2006, the Law Commission prepared an initial draft of The Victim and Witness Protection Act, which was further revised in 2011, but we still do not have it in the form of a legislative piece of action or law yet.
Another aspect of rape or sexual violence is when it is being committed by one’s legal spouse. Technically speaking, as per the context of law in Bangladesh, a husband cannot be charged of raping his own wife, but even in the English jurisdiction in a landmark case, it was decided that marital rape can also be committed.
Hence, it is high time for some reforms. Our legislatures need to look deeply into these current burning issues, and enact laws which shall minimize the loopholes exploited by the perpetrators and help us to achieve a society where our rights are established and not curtailed.
Sabrina Zarin is a Partner in FM Associates and an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.