On the very first day of a year, traditionally when every conscious individual likes the morning to kick off with a resolution to turn over a new leaf, drawing a line under the past, this year the nation was rather bombarded with the horrific news of gang rape of a woman—a mother of four —in Subarnachar, the Southern district of Noakhali. News report and victim’s account suggest the odious incident stemmed from a raw brewing up between the victim and a polling agent over casting vote of her choice at a polling center though the investigation of National Human Right Commission claimed to have found no link with voting.
More shockingly, on January 9, the unspeakable brutality against two minor girls after attempted rape and subsequent murder jolted the public conscience. The perpetrators lured the girls with lipstick and took them to one of the former’s house. As the girls were screaming for help during the occurrence, the culprits strangled them to death and hid the corpses under the bed. Again, close on the heels of the gang rape, the similar incident saw a repetition in less than three weeks in the same district. This time a mother of three children was violated in Kabirhat upazila by a gang of people taking advantage of the absence of her husband, who was in jail in a case filed by police.Meanwhile, hardly a day of January went by when news of rape or attempted rape did not appear on newspapers. News more or less similar to these --mentally challenged girl raped, teenage girl violated by uncle, blind girl raped, five raped in five districts, two-year-old child attempted rape and thrown away by the criminal, school girl raped in Narayanganj, Housewife raped in Sherpur, Madrasa girl raped in car were among a few—made their way in the newspapers throughout the first month of the new year. Even when this piece being prepared on February 1, news of violating a second grader in Jessore came out the day before. To put two and two together, women, especially the young children or minor girls are now in the rapists’ crosshair.
A report by Bangladesh Children's Rights Forum paints a very bleak picture of the safety of children in our society, where more than 2000 children fell victim to different kinds of hazards last year. This has been culled from published reports, and one fears the actual figure might be even higher, since many incidents of violence against children go unreported. Unreported or unnoticed because victims are often reluctant to file a case due to social stigma attached to such cases or fear of retribution from the felons. The report shows a considerable number of children were prey to rape and murder and it was 571 and 418 respectively. Apart from murder and rape, a good number of children were subjected to violence, torture and abduction. Longwinded trial process, exploitation of the legal loopholes by the accused that allow the perpetrators to get off scot-free, widespread pornography, and declining social and moral values are stated to be the major reasons for the steep rise in rape crimes.
In Bangladesh, the prosecution of rape is normally extremely complicated and time-consuming. In many cases, failure by the concerned agencies in bringing rape victims to hospital in time for medical examination even after the filing of a case makes it difficult for doctors to find any meaningful evidence of rape by then. According to a Dhaka Medical College and Hospital staff, as many as 20 percent of rape victims that the hospital receives each month are brought in late. Forensic experts say delays in medical test may destroy evidence and reduce the chance of getting proper results, making it impossible for the victim to get justice. That the doctors found no evidence of rape in the woman of rape victim of Kabirhat is a case in point. As it is often the case that the burden of proof lies with the victim, very few of them end up getting justice.
It goes without saying that violence against children has multifarious adverse impact. Apart from death, it may lead to severe injuries, impair brain and nervous system development, and result in negative coping, chronic health risk and perennial psychological and physical trauma. Children exposed to violence could also drop out of school, find it difficult to find and keep jobs and be at high risk for later victimization. Given that children make up 45 percent of Bangladesh’s total population and women are supposed to play an important part in our society, it obviously warrants their safety, protection, empowerment and emancipation so that they can equally contribute towards development of our county. Failure to rise to these challenges will definitely hamstring the progress of the nation in other sectors.
Laws are there to punish the culprits, but the fact remains that no law can eradicate a crime entirely. That said, Bangladesh penal code 375 and 376 plus Woman and Children Repression Prevention act 2000 can probably serve as an effective deterrent to rape crimes. Now the onus is on the government to enforce related laws, bring out new laws and make amendments to norms and values if required, to bring down the rape crimes.
Tougher sentences should be handed down to those found guilty; arrangements should also be made to hasten the trial process as well as taking adequate measures to check the growth in pornography. The government may also consider ostracizing convicted child or woman abusers from society or at least restricting their movement. Furthermore, for solutions to sustain, making enabling environments for children, providing parents or guardians with training, reducing socioeconomic groupings, and imparting life and social skills training to children to head off violence against them are the needs of the hour.
The writer is an Associate Engineer, Thakral Information Systems Pvt. Ltd