Landlord Mohammad Latif used to visit the house of one his tenants almost every day. The renters of the house never raised any objections to the 35-year-old’s frequent house calls as he played with their two-year old girl, Sabina Aktar Mim (pseudonym), and took her to nearby shops to buy her sweets.
One evening, however, little Sabina returned to the family home bleeding and wiping away tears.
Her mother says she was raped.
“Latif lured my daughter out of our home and took her into his house saying he would let her watch cartoons,” she told the Dhaka Tribune. “Latif violated her after taking her into his house.”
Sabina was taken to a hospital in Tongi on the outskirts of Dhaka before being transferred to the One Stop Crisis Centre (OCC) at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where she received treatment for over a month.
Doctors there conducted several medical tests before confirming the girl had been raped.
Sabina’s father lodged a case against Latif with Turag Police Station on December 24, 2016. Latif was arrested and put on remand as the police built their case against him.
The case was proceeding smoothly until police made a “mistake” which the victim’s counsel described as “nothing but negligence”. The police had omitted to list the doctor concerned on the charge sheet as a prosecution witness.
“If doctors who deal with such cases cannot be produced before the court, and they do not give a deposition that the medical report is true, then the evidence will not be admissible in the court,” the victim’s counsel, Fahmida Akhter Rinky, said.
Fahmida said a doctor’s deposition is very important with regard to cases filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000.
“We will now have to draw the court’s attention to the fact that the doctor who conducted tests on Sabina was not mentioned in the charge sheet as witness. We will need some time if the court asks us to incorporate the name.”
Several lawyers who deal with cases lodged over domestic violence and repression against children said families often struggle hard to get justice for child rape victims, especially girls.
Legal proceedings of such cases get stuck for a number of reasons, and the course of trial or investigation takes too much time to be completed, they added.
“It is a matter concern that most acts of violence against children remain unreported or are settled outside court,” Fahmida Akhter Rinky said.
Poverty, lack of knowledge to blame
Several public prosecutors said conviction rates in cases filed over domestic violence or violence against children are very extremely low.
“Getting justice is hard if victims or their guardians do not have a clear idea of the existing laws and trial systems,” Ali Asgar Swapan, a public prosecutor of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal 5 in Dhaka, said.
“The children who fall prey to such abuses are mainly from poor families, and their parents are either under-educated or uneducated. As a result, they are being deprived of justice and their due rights.
“Houses at slums are not well protected, and little girls are targeted by offenders when their wage labourer parents go out in search livelihoods.”
Swapan said in most cases, the victims know their assaulters, but their parents cannot take legal steps as they do not know how to file a case. “They do not even know where to go if police do not pay heed to their complaints,” he said.
Mohammad Forkan Mia, a public prosecutor of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal- 4 in Dhaka, also said victims of domestic violence are being deprived of justice because of their parents’ illiteracy and financial insolvency.
“Domestic workers are from poor families while their wealthy employers have adequate riches to influence investigators, either by offering monetary benefits to them or by threatening the victims’ parents to cover up the crimes they have committed,” he said.
Sabina’s counsel, Fahmida, said the traditional method of settlement of such cases through village arbitration is a major reason behind the low conviction rates.
“In a rape case, if the victim is under 13 years old, her parents want to hush up what happened to their daughter fearing social stigma, or the offender in some way manages to get away with his crimes either in exchange for money or by issuing threats,” she said.
“Minor girls and boys are being abused inside in the four walls of houses. Such incidents are increasingly taking place in big cities and towns, where nobody bothers knowing what his or her neighbours are doing. They do not even want to know about the boy or girl being assaulted in a house next to theirs.”
Another lawyer, who has long been dealing with such cases and who wished to remain anonymous, pointed out courts’ dutifulness in proper disposal of these cases.
She cited a January 2013 case filed with Khilgaon police station against a man named Md Manik, then aged 26, who raped a nine-year old girl while her parents were out of their home.
“The verdict was all set to be delivered but the court concerned, all of a sudden, decided that the trial would start afresh from the point of argument submission,” she said.
“None including the defence had prayed for starting over the trial, but the court did so on its own. We do not know the reason behind this move.”
Fahmida also said police encounter difficulties apprehending rapists as they frequently move one place to another, also hampering the trial process.
“Filing repeated ‘time petitions’ by the defence and granting bail to accused persons are also among the factors delaying the trial proceedings and thus depriving victims of justice,” she added.