Rape arbitrations make victims’ life more risky

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Criminals seldom get the highest punishment – death penalty – under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, and weak investigation and prolonged trial are the major reasons behind this. But what is more concerning is to not file lawsuits against the offenders. Many a time when a woman is raped or tortured, local influential people settle the matter through 'salish' or arbitration extra-judicially, offering the victim’s family some monetary ‘compensation’ and merely slapping the accused.

According to Prothom Alo reports, a class four student was allegedly raped by a neighbour in Kotalipara, Gopalganj, and later a ‘fine’ of Tk 10,000 was realised from the accused through arbitration. In another incident over raping a disabled girl, a man was fined Tk 10,000 and was slapped in Belkuchi upazila of Sirajganj. The victim’s father did not dare go to court to seek justice fearing the repercussion from local influential persons.

According to Manabadhikar Shongskriti Foundation (msf), punishment through arbitration was given in over 44 incidents in January-November 2023. Of these, arbitration took place maximum 13 times over rape, 11 times over rape attempts and, in one case, the rape victim was married off to the accused.

According to mfs, arbitration took place over a total of 19 incidents, and those include arbitration over 5 extramarital affairs, one over not following the decision for 'hilla' marriage, two over being termed 'characterless', one over love affairs, two over sexual harassment, two over theft, two over not following social norms, two over family feuds, and two over killings. Two victims committed suicide after arbitration.

One can settle family disputes through arbitration, but cannot spare or protect someone who is accused of committing criminal offence including rape. There is also a High Court ban on fatwa over family matters. Former caretaker government advisor and rights activist Sultana Kamal said rape is such a severe crime that the state can become the plaintiff and file lawsuit and the sentence must be carried out under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act. The arbitrators have no authority to settle such offence or punish anyone. Needless to say, in most cases, the decisions of such rape arbitrations go against women.

Where girls and women are repeatedly becoming victims of various forms of torture including rape, proper enforcement of laws is expected, but we see opposite in reality. Our trial process is so complex that it is difficult for victims to get justice even after amending the Evidence Act, and here the victims are denied legal access in the name of arbitration. In fact, influential people maintain such inhuman arbitration in the name of maintaining so-called social order.

Influential people always benefit from such arbitration and the weak become the sufferers. Many victims even commit suicide as they cannot not bear it. Crimes must be brought to book in each instance of torture against women including rape by filing lawsuits and proper investigation. Those who stop the path of justice through so-called arbitration must be held accountable. They are making the life of victim riskier by ignoring the conventional legal system of the country.