SEXUAL violence has taken an epidemic turn in recent times. What is more shocking is that a large number of victim of such violence are children. The Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum says that at least 346 children have been raped in four months and a half this year. Manusher Jonno Foundation says that at least 44 children were either raped or subjected to rape attempts in May 1–9. For obvious reasons, rights groups have expressed concern about the deteriorating child rights situation and held a meeting on Wednesday with the parliament members demanding that a parliamentary committee should look into the situation. All who attended the meeting readily acknowledged that the prevailing culture of impunity, societal view of women and children and indifference of the law enforcement agencies have contributed to this situation. The statistics also illustrate a grim reality for a nation that is a signatory to the UN Child Rights Convention and claims to be committed to ending gender-based violence.
Increased incidents of child rape and child abuse show that a rape culture is evolving pervasive which allows social consideration of women and children as weak and without an opinion. Within the legal framework, allegations of rape and sexual violence are also not seriously taken. There are numerous reported cases in which child victim and the family endured further harassment in the male-dominated legal system. The neglectful and biased attitude of the authority was proved in April 2017 when a man frustrated at not getting justice for his eight-year-old daughter being sexually assaulted committed, along with his daughter, suicide in the railway in Gazipur. The police did not only refuse to record the complaint but they also allegedly tried to protect offenders having political clout. The issue of political patronisation of rapists was also raised at the meeting with parliament members. In a number of cases, perpetrators of sexual violence having links to the political party in power are given shelter by the system. Interns of Sylhet Women’s Medical College Hospital are now in protests as a Chhatra League leader accused of threatening an intern with rape and murder was released within an hours after his arrest. When political parties use male violence as means to remain in power, it takes the risk of encouraging gender violence. The gang-rape of women in Noakhali by supporters of local Awami League leaders for campaigning for and voting a rival candidate proves this point.
It is, therefore, not enough for the government to say that it has zero tolerance towards child abuse and gender violence as, in practice, it maintains a political system in which such violence is tolerated. The government must address the wider problem of patriarchal insincerity and masculine political culture infesting the system. Women’s rights organisations should, meanwhile, not only limit their activities to legal redress but also challenge the culture of violence that normalises rape.
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