While the most secure place became the most unsafe place for many school-going girl children in Bangladesh, it’s important to note that, sex-offenders usually target the minors with social vulnerability; the girls about whom the offenders think they will not seek legal help. Offenders oftentimes target children having fewer friends or burdened with other tragedies of life as the offenders believe that those girls are unable to take any step against their actions.
Whenever the victimized minors raise their voice against the injustice they are facing inside their safe zones, parents and school authorities usually neglect their words or even warn them not to disclose it to anyone, in order to save their so-called ‘social status and reputation’. But it motivates the offender to commit more such offenses as no action is taken against them.
Unfortunately, keeping the mouth shut is not helping the girls. This ‘don’t tell anyone’ norm is pushing the minors to more helplessness. While this approach is setting the criminal free with the opportunity to commit more crime, it is on the other hand forcing the victims to live with feelings of guilt.
Bangladesh does have some legal provisions to deliver justice for the child victim of sexual crime. We have the ‘Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act’ which is much known as the ‘law to prevent torture on women’ (Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain in Bengali).
From the victim girl child’s accounts, which I have shared earlier, it seems that the violence starts with unwanted sexual touching. And this law has clearly criminalized the unwanted and sexual touching of the child.
Section 10 of the law state that, ‘whoever, to satisfy his sexual urge illegally, touches the sexual organ or other organ of a woman or a child with any organ of his body or with any substance, his act shall be said to be sexual oppression and he shall be punished with imprisonment for either description which may extend to 10 years but not less than 2 years of rigorous imprisonment and also with fine. Again, said that, whoever, to satisfy his sexual urge illegally, assaults a woman sexually or makes any indecent gesture, his act shall be deemed to be sexual oppression and he shall be punished with imprisonment for either description which may extend to seven years but not less than two years of rigorous imprisonment and also fine.’
The law also prohibits disclosure of the victim’s identity. According to section 14, ‘any news, information or name & address or any other information regarding any offense under such Act, committed or any legal proceedings where a woman or a child is the victim, shall not be published or presented as the acquaintance of the woman or the child shall be disclosed.’
So, we do have some legal provisions to address such violence to a certain extent. Now, if Bangladesh wants to put an end to this, the country needs to transform the social norms to deal with the sexual harassment against minor girls. The society, schools and most importantly the parents need to understand that, the victims need to get the sense that it’s not only okay but it’s very important to speak up and go for justice.
Along with a strong compassion and commitment to justice for the sexually tortured minor girls, the institutions need to take many preventive measures to stop the offenders in the first place from committing the crime.
Each and every school should have a particular monitoring cell or staff that will look after such matters. There must be a legal memorandum for every school in which the behavior of the school staff will be laid down and if any complaint arises then the accused one shall be suspended immediately and report the matter to the School committee and police station as well.
The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs must deal with the matter with full focus and arrange advocacy and campaign programs. The Education Boards can be involved here too. The parents and teachers needed to be more careful about these matters and they need to be free and frank with the children so that children may share these incidents freely with them.
Every school should have a child specialist or psychiatrist who can arrange weekly sessions with the children to know their traumas and establish a friendly connection to identify these matters easily. And, a social consensus must be created so that socially the victims get their protections and create an environment where they don’t afraid to come to the court premises to file a case or take the legal opinion of a lawyer of their choice.
The writer is doing her honors at the Department of Criminology, the University of Dhaka.