During the pandemic, we cannot afford to ignore the evils of sexual violence
In the last six months, the coronavirus has taken away the limelight from almost every important issue in society, and sadly, an offense that usually remains hidden has now been left even more obscure -- marital rape.
Over 179 countries for which data was available, 52 countries had amended their legislation to explicitly establish marital rape as a criminal offence, according to the UN Women’s 2011 report. In the remaining countries, including Bangladesh, that make an exception for marital rape in their rape laws, the spouse can be prosecuted under common rape laws.
In the context of Bangladesh, the exemption can be seen in Section 375 of the Penal Code 1860, where the chief provision of rape has been defined and lists five areas that would result in rape.
The list of five areas is accompanied by a certain exemption for marital rape from the offence of rape, which explicitly says that “sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, the wife not being under 13 years of age, is not rape.”
In 1993, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared marital rape as a human rights violation, but Bangladeshi law makes it legally impossible for a man to be held accountable for raping his wife if his wife is over 13 years of age.
It means that the overwhelming majority of married women in Bangladesh will be incapable of seeking recourse in law if they are raped by their husbands.
It is not just for Bangladesh -- throughout the history of most societies, it has been acceptable for men to force their wives to have sex against their will.
In Bangladesh, a lot of laws have been passed to protect the woman from violence and rape. In Bangladesh, the Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain, 2000 is considered one of the most effective laws addressing violence against women.
These acts include strict provisions for the prevention of offences related to abuse inflicted on women and children, trafficking and kidnapping of children and women, rape, death resulting from rape and dower, sexual harassment, etc.
However, Nari o-Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain, 2000 has seriously been misused from the time of its enactment. This law has been used as an apparatus of harassment, humiliation, and extortion, while the rate of conviction in the cases about violence against women and children is very low.
It has failed to provide the required results in punishing real criminals for committing violence against women.
During the lockdown, the situation has become worse. Since most of the girls in our country have to depend on men if they need anything, they have to be the victims of this violence in most cases.
In many cases, due to the economic downturn, a huge number of men start torturing their wives due to depression or frustration.
Over 11,000 women faced domestic violence during the Covid-19 shutdown. 11,025 women faced different forms of domestic violence during the shutdown across Bangladesh in May.
At least 4,249 women and 456 children were subjected to domestic violence including marital rape in 27 out of 64 districts of Bangladesh in April, with 1,672 women and 424 children facing violence for the first time in their lives, according to Manusher Jonno Foundation.
From January-February 2020, 29 women were murdered by their husbands, according to the Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK). Most of these cases were unreported.
The current situation is very dangerous, because nowadays many married women are not even conscious of the fact that they are being raped. Society has taught them that they have no choice when it comes to their husbands.
“When you are raped by a stranger you have to live with a frightening memory. When you are raped by your husband, you have to live with your rapist,” says Dr David Finkelhor. We have to realize that marital rape is often more traumatic and scarring for a victim than rape by a stranger.
We have improved in many sectors, but still, marital rape is not considered an offense in Bangladesh. It is high time for lawmakers to enact laws regarding marital rape and take necessary steps to fight violence against women.
Md Fahmedul Islam Dewan is a DLA Piper fellow and fourth year LLB student at the Department of Law, North South University.