The amendment to the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act in Jatiya Sangsad incorporating death as the highest punishment for rape has brought no respite from recurring rape incidents.
Since November 17, the day the amendment was passed, the country’s newspapers reported at least 134 rapes, including 21 by more than one man, in one month until December 17 while they reported an average of 142 rapes a month between January and November, according to rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra data.
The data show that the number of reported rapes in the past 11 months was higher than the total reported incidents in 2019.
The actual number of rape is many times higher as all the incidents are not published in the media, rights activists said.
The amendment was earlier promulgated through an ordinance on October 13 amid countrywide protests against rape and violence against women in October when the parliament was not in session.
The countrywide protests flared after a newly-wed woman had been gang-raped by Bangladesh Chhatra League leaders and activists at MC College in Sylhet in late September and a video of a woman being sexually assaulted in Noakhali by a local Juba League man’s gang members had gone viral in early October.
Rights activists, jurists and protesters said that the prevailing culture of impunity, lawlessness, political backing, especially by the ruling party leaders, culture of impunity, suppressed democracy, unusual delay in getting justice as the reasons behind the continued rape incidents.
They said that the hurried ordinance and the passage of the amendment to the law was not enough without addressing the ground reality.
They said that the government will have to take immediate steps to ensure speedy justice, scrapping all the laws and traditions discriminatory to women, ensuring safety and security of the victims and considering village arbitration on rape incidents as a punishable offence to end such crimes.
‘The lack of discipline, institutional weakness and overall lawlessness are the primary reasons for increasing rape incidents,’ said senior Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik.
‘All these resulted from our weak state of democracy. So, increasing punishment is not the solution. To make everybody’s life safer, including the lives of women, we have to look at the issue of democracy more closely. I am afraid crimes including rape and violence against women will continue to rise in the prevailing situation of very limited democracy,’ he said.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad general secretary Maleka Banu blamed the culture of impunity enjoyed by influential quarters backed by political leaders and unusual delay in getting justice as the main reason behind recurring rape incidents in society.
‘Most of such incidents do not come to light as the media often fail to pick up on them, for which the perpetrators become encouraged, she said, adding, ‘Besides, the culture of victim blaming, patriarchal outlook, and even harassment of the victim during investigation and cross-examinations in courts are also contributing to the declining situation.’
She demanded that the Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 be scrapped as it stipulated ‘when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character’.
‘In fact, the government passed the amendment hurriedly without taking initiatives to improve the situation to placate the movement against rape and the culture of impunity,’ said former Bangladesh Chhatra Union general secretary Anik Roy, one of the organisers of the movement in October.
He emphasised the need for early justice, an end to victim blaming and suggested the creation of cells against violence against women in all educational and public-private institutions, the inclusion of criminology and gender experts in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals and an end to the mental oppression against victims during investigations.
According to ASK data, the country witnessed a total of 1,564 rapes between January and November with the highest 374 incidents in October.
A total of 51 females were killed after rape and 14 others committed suicide in the 11 months.
The rape incidents in 11 months in the country is higher than the number in 2019 while a total of 1,413 women were victims of rape.
The number of rape victims was 732 in 2018 and 818 in 2017, the data show.
The data also show that in the ongoing year, 98 females were raped in January, 92 in February, 65 in March, 76 in April, 94 in May, 176 in June, 140 in July, 148 in August, 85 in September, 374 in October and 179 other women and girls were raped in November.
On November 17, Jatiya Sangsad passed the Women and Children Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2020 incorporating death as the highest punishment for rape.
The bill incorporated the term ‘rape victim’ instead of ‘raped’ in reference to the victim in the law following the recommendation of the committee.
According to the Article 9 (3) of the previous law, if a woman falls victim to gang-rape and gets injured or dies, the punishment is the death penalty or life imprisonment for each rapist.
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