THE government’s delay, if not unwillingness, to respond to the proposal of the Law Commission, which was permanently set up in 1996 to constantly review the laws for reforms, for the modernisation of the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Tribunal Act 2000 is an issue of concern. The commission on December 30, 2020 sent the draft of a law, the Women Repression Prevention Act 2021, to the law minister, redefining sexual harassment and assault on women and provisioning for increased punishment for rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and children. The draft of the law has arguably tried to attend to some issues that are not well defined in other places such as the Penal Code and it has also tried to broaden the definition of certain terms arguably with a view to ensuring a better justice dispensation and a gradual deterrence in punishment for the crimes. The draft has, as is reported, tried to provision for a greater punishment for rape of women in police custody and has proposed a greater financial penalty in view of the negligence in duty.
The law minister is, however, reported to have said in the past week that the ministry will have ‘a close look’ at the draft as the commission has sent the recommendation. The way the minister has put this speaks of something that is a routine but it is not a matter serious enough to call an early attention. The government, consequent on countrywide protests against an increasing number of rape incidents, amended the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act 2000 through the promulgation of an ordinance on October 13, 2020 and, then, its passage in the parliament on November 17 that year, provisioning for death as the highest punishment for rape, which many that time said would hardly bring about the desired results unless the government attends to other issues of further importance such as investigation and prosecution. The government should, therefore, look into the draft of the law in earnest and consider amending the law, if required, in order to effectively address crimes of rape and assault on women. The need for an effective law commission is reflected in a series of law reforms committees and agencies that were set up after Bangladesh’s independence — law reforms committees in 1976 and 1979, a law commission in 1990, and law reforms commission in May 1996 and in August 1996 before the permanent commission was set up in September 1996. The commission is mandated to review laws and recommend reforms so that the laws provision for deterrent punishment, become humane and less repressive.
Law reforms are an unending process and it is in this context, a permanent law commission such as the one in question was set up. It is now for the government to afford the commission enough freedom to review laws and recommend reforms to better the justice dispensation system. But the government must work in sync with the Law Commission for this to happen.
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