Legal system still inaccessible to rape survivors

Published: 00:00, Dec 27,2020


DESPITE a High Court order that trial proceedings of any rape case should be completed in 180 days, cases continue to face legal bureaucracy. More than 1,64,551 cases of sexual violence are reported to be pending with tribunals and courts. Of the pending cases, 38,006 cases have been in trial stages for more than five years and trial in 1,217 cases is stalled because of stay orders. Such bureaucratic delay and indifference is evident in the case of a girl child of Dinajpur who was raped in October 2016. Since the trial began, the court concerned has set 21 dates for witness deposition and cross-examination, but the public prosecutors have failed to produce witnesses or remained absent from the proceedings. The victims’ father, the plaintiff of the case, complained that the public prosecutor is insincere about and indifferent to securing justice for his daughter. Neither the police nor the public prosecutor has an acceptable explanation for the delay. The girl at hand is not alone. There are many rape victims struggling with the unwilling system to bring perpetrators to justice.

The case of the girl in Dinajpur also makes it evident that a strictly punitive approach in fighting the culture of rape has its limits. The plaintiff, a fisherman, can neither bear the legal expense nor provide for the girl’s medical need. The victim has sustained critical injury in the reproductive organ and requires routine medical attention. She also needs support to continue with her education as a special-need child. She has dropped out of school because of her physical condition. The High Court on December 6 ordered the court in Dinajpur to complete the trial by March 31, 2021 and asked the local social services and women and children affairs officers to ensure the victim’s treatment. A platform against gender-based violence suggested that there should also be a mechanism to ensure that the legal proceedings are completed within the stipulated timeframe. Activists, therefore, ask for a provision to make the system accountable as it has been continuously failing victims of sexual violence. They have urged the government to consider the possibility of compensating the victims so that they have a better access to psycho-social support.

It is time that the government addressed the structural issues that impede the process of seeking justice in rape cases and adopted a holistic approach including psycho-social support and financial compensation and that is not focused on punishment. The government must identify the existing gaps in the legal and institutional frameworks and ensure that justice process is accessible to rape victims so that they are not victimised again during the trial. The government must also develop a mechanism to make the law enforcement agencies and public prosecutors accountable so that no survivor faces the trauma that the girl in Dinajpur now faces.

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