The rape law in Bangladesh provision for harsher punishment for perpetrators. However, the legal definition of rape and the procedure that will ensure justice for the victims is deeply flawed. In a national conference on reforms of the rape law organised by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, as New Age reported on Sunday, rights activists observed that the definition of rape in the law is archaic and follows the way rape as crime was defined in the Penal Code. Discussants also observed that lawmakers, when reforming laws, focus more on punitive aspects of the law, but equal attention is not given to the procedure and rules for an effective enforcement. Consequently, the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act 2000 entails strict punishment, but the procedural and pre-trial barriers to seeking justice remain unaddressed. The fact that less than 2 per cent of rape cases filed in the past five years have ended in conviction speaks of the legal loopholes. It is, therefore, time that the government reviewed the rape law as procedural weaknesses have become an obstacle to justice.
In response to long-standing demands of rights activists, the government has recently taken steps that attempt to prioritise the welfare and interest of the victims. In May, in a milestone verdict, the High Court banned the use of two-finger tests of rape victims that has for decades subjected victims to further violence and humiliation. In 2015, the High Court also gave an 18-point guideline to ensure the protection and justice for victims that included DNA tests in 48 hours of the commission of the crime and instructed the police to record complaints of rape or sexual assault without delay and discrimination. While the banning of the two-finger test is a bold step, it is not enough to ensure justice for rape victims. The legal system needs to address the pre-trial barriers from filing the first information report to collecting medical evidence to barriers at trial stage when victims and other witness fearing social stigmatisation and threat from perpetrators are left unprotected which is precisely why rape victims need institutional support and protection. At all stages of rape cases, inconsistencies in the definition of rape and the sexist interpretations of consent continue to obstruct justice for rape survivors.
The government, under the circumstances, must immediately address the procedural loopholes and problems of definition in the rape law. It is important to ensure judicious trials of sexual violence; however, prevention of such crimes cannot be simply a matter of systematic conduction of the trial. When mainstream political parties use masculine aggression and violence as means to remain in power, it takes the risk of encouraging gender violence. In what follows, the demand for a radical change in the mainstream political culture is on point. There is also a general lack of societal commitment to end sexual violence as it tends to blame victims. Women’s rights organisations and civic groups must, therefore, challenge the culture of victim blaming.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial