Over the past five years, children and young girls just entering puberty have been the main victims of rape, gang rape, attempted rape and rape-related killing, according to findings of a legal aid organisation. The findings have been based on their own investigations and media reports.
In this report of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), the age of the women who have been victims of rape, has not been mentioned in almost half of the cases. But among the rest, 86 per cent are children. And two-thirds of the women killed after rape, are also children. A large percentage of them are 12 years old or younger. And many of them are victims of gang rape.
According to the findings, around 4000 women have been victims of rape and attempted rape over the past five years. A number of other non-government organisations have drawn up similar findings based on media reports. However, those provide an even less complete picture. There is no accurate information or data at a national level concerning the actual number of rapes that have taken place, nor on the trends in this regard or the state of the cases that have been filed in such incidents.
Those who work on the issue of rape say that the actual number of incidents is much larger. According to the police headquarter records, over 19,000 rape cases were filed in these five years. That means, 11 rape cases were filed every day on an average.
Deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Farida Yasmin said, cases are not filed in every incident of rape. The families initially try to hush up the incident. In the case of children, the rape is usually committed at home, by close relatives or acquaintances. The family only reports the incident if the child becomes mentally unstable, seriously injured or if the incident becomes public.
Farida Yasmin is in charge of DMP’s Women Support and Investigation Division. She said, in the very first two weeks of the new year, eight sensational rape cases were referred to them for investigation. They pay particular attention to child rape cases.
In the first 18 days of this year, Prothom Alo reported 23 incidents of rape and attempted rape. Of these, 15 of the victims are children and young girls. The victims even include a two-year-old girl child. Four of the victims were killed after being raped. Another victim succumbed to her injuries after rape and died.
In Satkhira, a child of class two was reportedly raped by the brother of her house tutor. In Syedpur, Nilphamari, a teacher has been charged with raping a student of class five. In Old Dhaka, the brother of local landlord has been charged with raping and killing of two-year-old. The dead bodies of a four-year-old girl and a five-year-old girl were recovered from the neighbouring flat of a young man in Demra. According to police, the young man had lured them to his flat with promises of giving them lipstick, attempted to rape them, but killed them after failing to do so.
ASK findings state that 278 incidents of rape-related killing took place in the last five years. And 42 committed suicide after being raped. In most cases the age has been given, indicating that 86 per cent of those committing suicide due to rape are 18 years old or below.
The total number of rapes fluctuates only slightly from year to year. According to ASK, in 2014, a total of 726 rape incidents took place. The highest was in 2017, with the total number of rape incidents standing at 818 that year. The findings of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad are more or less the same. ASK referred to eight national dailies for their findings and Mahila Parishad 15.
Police records also do not indicate much of a change in the number of recorded rape cases over the past five years. The police headquarters maintain detailed records of rape incidents taking place all over the country. The home ministry and other ministries are provided with this information. The police provided Prothom Alo with the numbers only.
The women and children’s affairs ministry has a ‘multi-sectoral programme’ for prevention of repression against women. Under this programme, a national data base on violence against women and children was supposed to be built up, but this has not even started, despite several years having passed.
The deputy secretary in charge of the women’s repression prevention cell of the ministry, Gazi Uddin Mohammed Munir, told Prothom Alo that they monitor the information sent in by the district and upazila women’s affairs officials and also the media reports on sensational incidents of violence against women and children, and speedily issue letters to the home ministry for due action to be taken.
Under the multi-sectoral programme, there are one-stop crisis centres (OCC) at nine major hospitals of the country, for women and children victims of abuse. These centres provide medical treatment and legal aid and have limited provisions for rehabilitation. OCC maintains records of the victims and the cases. However the incidents of rape are not recorded separately from the other incidents of sexual abuse.
Since inception in 2006 till November last year, the nine OCCs have recorded around 6000 cases of sexual abuse. Two-thirds of the victims in these cases are children. However, Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s OCC coordinator Bilkis Begum pointed out to Prothom Alo, most of the victims to not want to file charges.
Till date, one-fourth of the cases have been settled. And of these, 7 per cent the accused persons have been sentenced to punishment. OCC closely monitors the cases. Prothom Alo had investigated around 5000 rape-related cases submitted to five women’s repression prevention tribunals in Dhaka over a period of 15 years (2002-16). It was seen that in only three per cent of the settled cases, the accused has been sentenced. When sensational cases crop up, the administration displays a flurry of activity for some time, but then it all gradually dies down. These cases are no longer monitored properly either.
Concerned persons say it is difficult to conduct these cases effectively when as the necessary facts and details of the rape cases are not recorded properly. Gender specialist Ferdousi Sultana is involved with the government’s various policy and planning related to women’s affairs. She told Prothom Alo that the union parishads or women and children affairs ministry should have a full-fledged data bank. This is essential for the government’s planning.
Ferdousi said that there is a lack of accurate information in Bangladesh. But even with whatever there is, the planning and the work is inadequate.
The non-government organisation Breaking the Silence is working to protect children from sexual abuse. Executive director of the organisation, Rukhsana Sultana, said, it is persons with whom the children are very familiar who lure them with chocolates, lipsticks and other goodies and then rape them. That is why when a child is old enough to understand, they must be told not to go secretly with anyone who lures them with such offers. Sexual abuse of boy children must also be spoken about. She said, the government must also come forward to raise public awareness regarding the risk of child sexual abuse.
*This piece originally published in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir