The home ministry that oversees law and order says prevention of rape incidents is their maximum priority. In October last year, the government made the death penalty as the maximum punishment for rape instead of life imprisonment. Yet there is no sign of the crime dropping. Experts think that lax police investigation, including more witnesses in the cases, DNA tests, lengthy trials, lack of financial ability by victims to continue legal fight and, most of all, delay in trial are the reasons for not being able to prevent this crime.

Professor and head of the criminology department at Dhaka ‎ University, Khandaker Farzana Rahman told Prothom Alo that incidents of rape continue to rise because changes that would reduce rape incidents have not been brought to the social structure. Constructive text curriculum, gender sensitive and humanitarian education in family and society and cultural and creative activities should be emphasised for mental development. No change has happened in these aspects yet. The law deals with the post-crime situation. That’s why only increasing punishment can’t curb the crime.

According to records of the police headquarters, 20,713 cases were filed over violence against women and children from January to November of last year. Thirty-three per cent of cases were rape incidents. Some 31 per cent of total lawsuits on women and children torture were rape case in the previous year.

Incidents including the rape of a Dhaka University female student in the capital’s Kurmitola on 5 January last yearthe , gang-rape of a newly-wed young woman by activists of Chhattra League at a Sylhet MC College dormitory on 25 September, spreading of the video showing a woman being stripped and tortured in Noakhali’s Begumganj on 1 October created huge outcry and protest across the country including the capital city.

Then the government amended the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act on 13 October last year, incorporating a provision of death penalty as the highest punishment for rape. It also made DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) test of both the victim and the accused compulsory.

Prothom Alo analysed the data of the previous and the following months of the law enactment. Only incident of rapes published in the print edition has been reviewed. It shows 116 women and children were victims of rape from 14 September to 13 October and 183 women and children from 14 October to 13 November.

In reply to the query regarding the overall situation, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo that instructions have been given at different levels to take measures on highest priority related to rape incidents. Besides, instructions have been given to ensure fair trial and punishment.

Horror continues to haunt

After being rapped, the twenty-five-year-old apparel worker from Gazipur faces threat to her life. She was returning home from a market after working at her factory. She became the victim of gang-rape on her way home. The rapists tried to slit her throat with a sharpen weapon but she survived after two cyclists, who were returning from office, saw her. The incident happened on the evening of 12 December. Now she suffers from severe physical and mental trauma and faces threat to her life. She told Prothom Alo a case against has been filed against three people with Kashimpur police station. These accused also faced rape allegations before. The three are now behind bars.

Executive president of Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre Ruhul Amin kept in contact with her. He told Prothom Alo, “Her physical condition has not improved despite treatment, after collecting funds. Her genitals are injured." They requested the factory authorities to keep her employed.

On 9 October last year, a mentally-challenged teenage girl was raped by a youth at her home in Palsh upazila of Narsingdi since she was alone at home. Locals managed to catch the youth and handed over him to the local police. The accused was released from jail on bail on 2 December. Investigating officer in the case and the sub-inspector of Palash police station Md Siadur Rahman told Prothom Alo that court granted bail to the accused. Police have nothing to do. As to whether DNA tests of the victim and the accused had been carried out, he said it was not necessary since the accused was arrested.

In the meantime, the family of the accused continues to threaten the victim's family to withdraw the lawsuit. The girl’s mother filed a general diary on the matter on 7 December. The mother is now worried about the future of the lawsuit because of severe financial crisis. She told Prothom Alo, “I run the family by earning from working at other people’s houses. Running a case requires money at each step, where will I find such a huge sum of money?”

Demand for reducing the lengthy trial proceedings arose from the anti-rape movement at the end of the last year. People concerned said the perpetrators are afraid of the law because of the opportunity to sidestep it. Director of legal aid unit at Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Maksuda Akter told Prothom Alo procrastination in trial is the main challenge to rape cases. Nothing will happen unless all concerned including police and physicians are held responsible, she added.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna

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