A system must be developed where the state ensures rehabilitation and addresses the physical, psychological and socio-economic needs of rape victims
The medieval mindset of the people and the colonial influence on the law complement each other and patronise the enrooted rape culture prevalent in Bangladesh and the sub-continent.
The recent incidents at MC College and Begumganj upazila in Noakhali district of Bangladesh have fueled nationwide protests demanding the reformation of rape laws.
Subsequently, the government approved an amendment in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000; which now states that anyone convicted of rape will be punished with death or rigorous imprisonment.
Though the name of the legislation is the Women & Children Repression Prevention Act, the paramount object of the law was to provide deterrent punishment for the offenders. With only a 3 percent conviction rate, how this new amendment will prevent the highest and most heinous form of violation yet remains unclear.
We saw the Nirbhaya rape case in India where the perpetrators were punished after several years of legal battle but still, it did not help to mitigate the number of rapes.
By now, we must have understood that prevention of rape cannot be attained through legal reforms only, but will require an elaborate reformation of the other factors such as sex education, patriarchal societal practices and so on.
These reformations call for research on gender-sensitive policies, patriarchal norms, toxic masculinity, and many other correlated aspects.
While working on these reforms, we have to simultaneously develop a system where the state ensures the rehabilitation of victims and addresses their physical, psychological and socio-economic needs.
We need to build a centralised database to record information of every person convicted of perpetrating rape or any other form of sexual violence.
According to article 32 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, right to life is a fundamental right and includes the right to lead a life with dignity and security.
As society has de facto put its dignity in women's' honour, the state as the mother has to uphold the dignity of our women and remain by their side.
While the government has focused on taking punitive measures against the offenders, it also needs to ensure that the conviction rates increase and the way it can be achieved is by empowering the victims by giving them access to shelter, social security, safety, and protection.
Though legal reforms itself cannot prevent rape, they are needed to standardise the archaic law in favour of the victim. From leaving the door open for questioning the character of the victim through section 155(4) of the Evidence Act, to unsafe abortion as a consequence of section 312 of the Penal Code, every unaddressed repercussion leaves the victim a sufferer for life.
In the landmark judgment in the Naripokkho & others vs Bangladesh, the Honourable High Court Division has pronounced 18 directives on the prosecution of rape cases.
Article 111 of the Constitution established the precedent value for the judgment of the High Court Division. In one of the directives, it was mentioned that a victim support centre should be discreet and should have all the facilities required for recovery.
However, inadequate services, lack of trained personnel, and incapability in providing long term rehabilitation, altogether fail to address the needs of the victims.
As per Article 112, all authorities, executive and judicial, of the Republic, shall act in the aid of the Supreme Court. With great agony, it is fair to say that the concerned ministries of the government and other organisations could not facilitate the road to implement the guidelines yet.
In most cases, the offenders are known persons and sometimes even family members, which stops the victim from seeking justice. This is a clear indication that the bearer and protector of patriarchal norms can be both men as well as women. In these instances, empowering the victim is difficult as they do not pursue their cases in the first place.
As per the data of One-Stop Crisis Centre, out of the 16,804 rape survivors who sought treatment from 2001-2013, only 3,747 took legal action, a measly 22 percent. Many reasons are contributing to not seeking justice and key among them is the feeling of disapproval by the system.
The role of civil society and various NGOs in the ongoing protest is praiseworthy. However, the government, NGOs, and other stakeholders need to emphasise on the infrastructure and resources of the Victim Support Centre.
Capacity building at the grassroots level and access to resources addressing the sensitivity of the rape cases can be an important constituent in empowering the victim. Rape has been identified as a plague in our country and bringing a change in punishment is insignificant if the cases go unrecorded and don't go through to trial.
This is the time to provide budgets to fund services, managing database showing how many victims have been rehabilitated, promoting accountability of all the stakeholders, and raising awareness through digital platforms which will create momentum to prevent, report, and respond to rape.
Tanjina Rahman Priti is a research intern at BFLHA.
Bangladesh Forum for Legal & Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA) is a non-profit organization that works in the field of social justice by promoting human rights, providing pro bono preliminary legal aid, fighting for rule of law, conducting extensive legal research, & organizing humanitarian campaigns.