BY P.M. Serajul Islam
The occurrence of aggression against women and children has increased manifold in the country. School and college going female students and tender children is falling victim to cruelty. The heinous event of rape, gang rape, murder, torture and acid throwing has become a common incident to take place somewhere in the country on regular basis. Rapists are killing and hiding the victims after rape. Even they are burning the women alive. Nobody dares to bear witness to the oppression of women due to lack sufficient security of his/her life. Thus the heinous acts of stalking and killing are on the rise day by day.
The main types of the oppression of women include eve teasing, dowry, trafficking, kidnapping, rape, physical torture and acid throwing. Almost every day, women are victimized by these acts of violence and repression. And domestic violence at the hands of husbands is a very routine practice in Bangladesh.
Eve-teasing and sexual harassment of women has indeed increased but there is none to care. Many of the victims are committing suicide due to their irresistible sense of shame and insult.
Eve teasing was not an acute problem in Bangladesh until the 1980s. As more girls and women during this time became educated and entered the labour force, eve teasing as a harmful social practice became much more common.
Eve teasing is rising both in number, recklessness and ferocity. Figures released by Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a human rights organisation, revealed that 62 per cent of school girls are victims of eve teasing.
Apart from increasing school drop-outs and forcing girls into early marriage, eve teasing also contributes to perpetuating the low status of women.
Eve teasing and sexual harassment of women are happening under different types of genres.
The women in hijab are also being tortured in various ways. The law enforcers are incessantly torturing the women wearing hijab by unjustly arresting them and taking them on remand for days.
The government of Bangladesh has pursued a number of legal measures, both direct and indirect, to minimise violence against women and uphold their rights. Unfortunately, eve teasing is still not considered a form of physical harassment, and thus is not legally regarded as a violent act. Consequently, the tragedy is that very few victims of eve teasing are being taken seriously by the police or the legal authority.
Fortunately, things are gradually changing. On November 11, 2011, mobile courts in Bangladesh were empowered to prosecute people accused of sexually harassing women or ‘eve teasing’. Anyone convicted of sexual harassment or stalking women will face a year in jail, a fine or both. The government now hopes that mobile courts will deal with cases quickly and that the punishments handed out will act as a deterrent to others. Mobile courts across the country will be trying these cases and district officials can form mobile courts whenever they think it is necessary.
Mobile courts can be seen as progress as they recognise ‘eve teasing’ as sexual harassment that should be punished. However, one needs to remain careful as in some cases sanctions can also be excessive. For example, an adolescent boy under the age of 16 years (who should benefit from special provisions under the Children Act) can also be sentenced to one year jail after summary trial for making a one-time indecent remark to a girl.
Therefore, we need amendment of the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children 2000 Act (amended in 2003) in order to define ‘eve teasing’, recognising it as sexual harassment, categorizing different forms of eve teasing and defining a scale of proper penalty in relation to the form of eve teasing, the profile of eve teaser, and repeat offenders. Special attention needs to be taken when the accused persons are under the age of 18 years, as the Children Act provides for separate procedures for them to be dealt with and the proposed new Children Act also encourages, where possible, informal procedures for them.
On the other hand, Dowry is the most common unpleasant custom of our country. It creates many problems. It is against the success of our country. It is a much-unexpected situation for the bride’s family members. They are to collect a huge amount of money for their daughter’s or sister’s marriage. Sometime they are to take loan, sell their lands, furniture, ornaments and even their own house to collect the money. They are to lose many things and face many problems for this dowry system. There are numerous evidences that the practice of dowry can have consequences that can be harmful and sometimes lethal for women.
The dowry system is responsible for child marriage and discrimination between genders. Bangladesh is a South-Asian country in which child marriages still exist at a high rate. According to Dispatches International, in July 6, 2013, more than two thirds of adolescent girls get married, and about two among five girls, between the ages of 15 and 17 are already married. As a result, more than half of the teenager girls in Bangladesh become mothers when they are only 19 years old, half of these are malnourished. The national mortality rate reported that in Asia, especially in Bangladesh, every year 11,000 women die when they give birth to children.
Bangladesh has many laws for the protection of women. For example, the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act 1933, the Family Court Ordinance, the Cruelty to Women (Deterrent Punishment) Ordinance, the Trafficking in Women and Children Act 1993, the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Prevention of Women and Child Repression Act (2000), etc.
The problem is that every case of oppression of women involves the police, witnesses, lawyers, magistrates or judges, and often doctors. If all the parties involved perform their professional and moral obligation, then the perpetrator will be punished. But, with some exceptions, most of the parties are involved in corruption or are irresponsible. Political pressuring can also hamper the investigation of cases involve women’s repression. Sometimes, to protect themselves, witnesses in the cases will not give truthful statements to the court.
In order to prevent violence against women, it is necessary to practice the rule of law, carry out proper and competent investigations, should reduce poverty and all kinds of discrimination (man and women) and implement existing laws protecting women. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure the security of witnesses and victims, and corruption must be fought against during the time from when the case is filed until the trial is finished. And political pressuring must be stopped. To prevent women’s oppression, men must first come forward. The question remains: is the Bangladesh government ready to tackle any and all kinds of violence against women?
We want to see that, Bangladesh government should take positive step for the empowerment and for the rights of women immediately.
Mr PM Serajul Islam is a Bangladesh based journalist, lawyer and researcher. His research topic is ‘Right to life and personal liberty in Bangladesh with special reference to extra judicial killing in Bangladesh.