Rape Death Penalty Might Have No Effect
Md. Mamonor Rashid :
Amid enormous outrage over a video, posted on social media on 4 October, shows a woman being stripped of her clothes, slapped, kicked and punched by a group of five men for almost half an hour. The beating, which was recorded from start to finish and is believed to have taken place on 2 September, is the latest incident in an escalating wave of violence against women in the country. This truly disturbing footage demonstrates the shocking violence that the women are routinely being subjected to torture in Bangladesh.
Besides on 25 September, another woman was allegedly gang-raped by a group of seven men affiliated with the ruling Awami League's student wing at Sylhet's MC College. The woman was visiting the area with her husband when the perpetrators allegedly attacked them and dragged the woman into a dormitory before tying up and beating her husband and gang-raping her.
However, the real statistics of rape is hardly available in a conservative and secretive society like ours. The families of the victims hardly seek legal procedure in fear of social stigma. We often come to know of the incidents when the victim dies, or his/her condition is critical. So it is not unnatural that such many other incidents are under-reported.
As per the horrifying statistics compiled by the human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra from various media reports total of 975 rape incidents took place between January to September 2020. It means on average, 4 women have been raped every day in the last nine months even in the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, there have been 204 incidents of attempted rape during the same time frame. At least 43 women died and 12 committed suicide after being raped.
Moreover, victims of sexual assault, particularly from poor and marginalized communities, lack effective legal and medical assistance. Police did not always file a First Information Report (FIR), the first step to initiating a police investigation, especially if the victim was from an economically or socially marginalized community. In several cases, the police resisted filing the FIR or pressured the victim's family to 'settle' or 'compromise,' particularly if the accused was from a powerful family or community.
Even if it comes to trial, it's often found that the victim's guardians cannot go on with the lengthy legal battle. Out-of-court settlements are common with complainants not eventually showing up at the court. The accused often gets acquitted despite evidence as the victims do not show up at the court. The law enforcement also fails to detain the perpetrators and they are not trained to handle such sensitive cases.
Parents also feared for their daughters' safety after filing complaints because the accused received bail easily and then made threats. Some defense lawyers and judges still use language in courtrooms that is biased and derogatory toward sexual assault survivors. The attempt at shaming the victim is still very much prevalent in the courts. On the other hand, the lack of a witness protection law in Bangladesh makes rape survivors and witnesses vulnerable to pressure that undermines prosecutions. For instance, Local Shalish, unofficial village councils, often pressure economically or socially marginalized community not to pursue a criminal case or to change their testimony if the accused is from the dominant community.
According to data from the government's One Stop Crisis Centre, between 2001 and July 2020, only 3.56 percent of cases filed under the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000 have resulted in a court judgment and only 0.37 percent of cases have ended with convictions. women's rights organization Naripokkho examined the incidents of reported rape cases in six districts between 2011 and 2018 and found that out of 4,372 cases, only five people were convicted.
Following a mass public outcry after the video of the attack in Noakhali was posted online, students, civil society, political and human rights activists organised a protest throughout the Bangladesh and the Law Ministry is proposing the death penalty as the highest punishment for rape. The draft of the proposed amendment to the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 will be tabled at the next cabinet meeting for approval. Women in Bangladesh are being failed by a criminal justice system that puts them at greater risk. Besides, urgent reform of the proposed death penalty is needed to strengthen how these cases are investigated, to support and protect victims and witnesses, and to speed up the painfully slow trial process.
(Mr. Mamonor is Advocate and Legal Researcher at CM&A LCP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)