Take actions to stop sexual harassment of teenage girls

It is natural that, in a country where the level of brutal criminal offenses, such as rape and murder after rape, is alarmingly high, sexual harassment will continue to be ignored as a 'minor crime'. Harassment may no longer be considered as violent behaviour when the normal sensitivity of the society is reduced due to excessive violent behaviour and lack of legal remedy. This is how the incidents of sexual harassment remains rarely discussed. Those news do not find a place in the media. Even if the media publishes any of such news; there is not much Brouhaha in the society. That is what is happening in Bangladesh.

Sexual harassment of teenagers is a big and serious issue in this country. The National Institution of Population Research and Training (NIPORT) under the Ministry of Health and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) have recently released the findings of a nationwide survey which termed sexual harassment of adolescents as violence and recommended to include programmes aimed at preventing violence against teenagers. A survey carried out on nearly 5,000 married and about 8,000 unmarried adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 found that 17 per cent of married adolescents and 34 per cent of unmarried adolescents were sexually harassed at least once a year.

The rate of sexual harassment among unmarried adolescents is twice that of married adolescents. It can be explained as the married adolescents are less likely to be sexually harassed. The detrimental social consequence of this reality is that it increases the risk of child marriage. Parents want to be safe by marrying girls before they reach the age of marriage. The survey found that sexual harassment of adolescents was more common on roads. This means that their safety decreases as they move out of the home, increasing their risk of sexual harassment. It is a matter of maintaining law and order, which is the responsibility of the police force. But when our police force has to struggle to stop serious crimes like murder and rape, it becomes very hard for them to focus on preventing sexual harassment of teenagers on the streets.

Sexual harassment of teenage girls has been listed as a problem for the health and wellbeing of adolescent girls in the report of ‘Bangladesh Adolescent Health and Wellbeing Survey 2019-20’. Sexual harassment is a damaging experience and it may leave a long-lasting and far-reaching negative impact on adolescent minds. This can lead to trauma, which can result to panic and depression, isolation, unreasonable self-loathing, guilt and such other emotions. As a result, her studies may be damaged and she may end up as victim of child marriage.

We cannot afford to ignore the issue. Steps aimed at preventing rape and other violent behaviours should be introduced to curb sexual harassment of adolescents.