Nazma Begum (57) herself had been a domestic violence victim. In the past 17 years, she has also witnessed two of her daughters and granddaughter falling victim to domestic violence and dowry in the same way.
One of her daughters had to die for failing to provide dowry. Her 16-year-old daughter Samina was set on fire by her husband and in-laws on 7 June, 2005.
Nazma Begum from Savar’s Kawnia village told Prothom Alo over the phone, “I forget about everything else in the world when I’m reminded of my daughter. I’m only alive as a zombie.”
Failing to prevent her husband being her, a pregnant housewife left her husband's house 15 years ago to move to her father's house in Satkhira’s Tala. Now she earns her living as a beggar.
Her daughter from that marriage is a teenager now. Being raped by an elderly neighbour, the girl is six-months pregnant at the moment. The mother told Prothom Alo on the phone last Saturday that the rapist is now on the run. And she (housewife) has been left helpless.
Nazma, her daughters and granddaughter are not the only ones. Countless women of the country bear scars of violence against women and children that are being passed on from generation to generation.
According to government and non-government sources, there has been an average increase of 350 cases per month under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, compared to five years ago.
Meanwhile, online platforms have turned into another major medium for hateful comments, cheating, sexual harassment and torture. Compared to the beginning of this year there has been a 25 per cent increase in complaints of harassment online towards the yearend.
It is the ministry of women and child affairs that plays a major part to create a social context in preventing repression against women outside of the legal procedure.
However, the ministry's budget for activities to prevent repression against women now is the lowest within last six years. The budget has dropped by 63 per cent during this period.
Repression increasing in reality and virtually
Review of the data from police headquarters reveals that the number of cases under women and children repression prevention act has escalated every year following 2018.
Out of them, there was highest 39 per cent and 36 per cent increase in the number of filed cases in 2020 and 2021 respectively, the two years of widespread corona infection. Compared to 2018, cases have increased by 5 per cent this year within just 10 months.
Crimes like rape, torture and murder for dowry, adduction, sexual assault, incitement to suicide, harming with combustible element and mutilation of children for begging purpose fall under the women and children repression prevention act.
In this regard, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo on 21 December that there is no country in the world without repression against women and children. The prime minister is vocal against repression of women. There are all sort efforts on government’s part to stop violence against women.
Usually, cases of violence against women and children are reported in the media, only if they are serious.
Non-government organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) has reported with news published in nine newspapers and some online media that 3,184 reports of violence against women and children have been published in 11 months this year. And, 64 per cent of the news is of rapes.
Online violence against women has increased as well. According to data of the Police Cyber Support for Women (PCSW), in between January to November this year, 8,715 women have complained of issues like fake ID, ID hacking, blackmailing, harassment over phone and spreading of offensive content.
While 661 complaints were received in January this year, 826 complaints came in last November. PCSW officials confirmed that repression against women is increasing on social media. Criminals can easily collect information of women online. Later, they harass them in different ways.
In the face of social pressure during economic crisis, there were more cases of domestic violence and rape. There’s no scope to say that violence against women have decreased now, compared to that time.Khandaker Farzana Rahman, Chairperson, Department of Criminology, Dhaka University
Frustration over judicial procedure
Non-government organisation Bangladesh Mahila Parishad is handling the case of Nazma Begum’s daughter Samina being set on fire and killed. The court sentenced six people including Samina’s husband Zafar to death in 2018 after 13 years of the case being filed.
Three of them including Zafar are behind bars while the other three are on the run. It’s a long way to the verdict being delivered. Punishment of the accused remaining unimplemented even after such a long period has left Nazma Begum disappointed.
After filing a torture for dowry case against her husband 25 years ago, a woman was pressurised to withdraw it within a year. She told Prothom Alo disappointingly, “I feel hurt. I have no wish to remember the old days any longer.”
In 2013 a mother in the capital had lodged a case against her uncle, accusing him of raping her child. The case is still on the witness deposition phase in the court. That mother expressed her anguish to Prothom Alo over slow pace of the trial.
It has been learnt from police, lawyers and public prosecutors, although trials of women and child repression cases are supposed to end at tribunals within 180 days, it seldom happens.
It takes time to collect medical certificates and DNA reports (compulsory in rape cases) during case investigation. Years go by in recording statements of physicians, investigating officer and different witnesses involved in the case, once the trial process begins.
While talking to Prothom Alo on this issue associate professor of law at Dhaka University Taslima Yasmin said, the procedures there should be to implement women and children repression prevention act effectively, are not there.
A sort of accountability is required for people who’ll assist victims on different judicial stages. As the cases remain pending for long, criminals believe, “No matter what we do, we’ll get away with it”, she added.
As per high court data, the number of cases being tried under the 99 women and children repression prevention tribunal of the country in between 1st April and 30 June of this year is 178,231. Highest 18,025 cases are being tried at nine tribunals of Dhaka.
Although trials of women and child repression cases are supposed to end at tribunals within 180 days, it seldom happens. It takes time to collect medical certificates and DNA reports (compulsory in rape cases) during case investigation. Years go by in recording statements of physicians, investigating officer and different witnesses involved in the case, once the trial process begins.
Budget for repression prevention shrunk
People involved with women movement believe starting from the family, education, health to gender discrimination in legal structure are contributing towards increasing repression of women.
Last July, World Economic Forum (WEF) in their ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2022’ on gender discrimination stated that Bangladesh stood 71st among 146 countries. But, Bangladesh’s position was 48th in 2018.
While gender discrimination and repression against women have increased, women-related projects and programmes have gone through budget cuts for economic crisis.
The government labels the ‘Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence Against Women’ project as ‘flagship’ (most important). 11 ministries led by women and children affairs ministry provides coordinated service in preventing violence against women and children.
The lowest among last six years, Tk 110 million has been allocated in this project this fiscal year (2022-23). In 2017-18, Tk 350 million was allocated in this sector.
When asked, joint secretary of the women and children affairs ministry Nahid Monjura, the official in-charge of the project told Prothom Alo, the finance ministry has been contacted to increase the budget.
Led by the women and children affairs ministry, there are national, central, divisional, district, upazila and union level committees to prevent repression against women.
A non-government organisation from Satkhira that has attended 56 meetings of the district and upazila level committees from 2013 till now has told Prothom Alo, despite there being regular meetings, only 13-14 issues get discussed in them.
Law and order along with drug prevention gets priority in the meetings. There’s no discussion on women affairs in most of the meetings, it added.
When asked additional secretary of the women and children affairs ministry Md Muhibuzzaman told Prothom Alo, the government puts highest priority on women affairs. Alternatives are being considered about the meetings.
Despite the inter-ministerial committee on preventing repression against women and children as well as conducting national anti-dowry activities was reconstituted in 2020, the first meeting was held on 17 November this year. The state minister for women and children affairs presides over the 31-member committee.
A member present in that meeting told Prothom Alo that the government-associated members of the committee expressed doubts about the increase in repression against women. They raised questions about the survey methods of various private organisations as well.
No scope to say repression decreased
Khandaker Farzana Rahman, chairman of Dhaka University’s criminology department believes while the number of cases filed under women and children repression prevention act has dropped a bit compared to the two years of widespread corona infection, it doesn’t show an overall picture of women repression going down.
She told Prothom Alo, in the face of social pressure during economic crisis, there were more cases of domestic violence and rape. There’s no scope to say that violence against women have decreased now, in comparison to that time.
Since, there’s no visible initiative to prevent repression against women, from either the government or the civil society, she continued.
Khandaker Farzana said, to prevent repression against women, gender equality lessons have to be included in the education system. Families have to play greater roles too in creating a sphere of respect and empathy towards women.