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Seventeen-year-old Sadat Rahman has been awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize. The Netherlands -based human rights organisation Kid’s Right accorded him this rare honour for inventing an app to prevent cyber bullying. I would imagine a similar kind of app could be used to prevent rape too.

Children in all the countries of the world are being harassed online nowadays. Sharing personal information, photographs and videos in the name of friendship has become like a disease in recent times. Many girls have chosen to end their lives because of this. Spreading false information or rumours for harassment or personal enmity has become like a contagious disease now. Friendship with false identities and embezzling money has also become very common. Those who have young children at home know very well how terrible the consequences can be. Sadat hails from Narail. Online harassment had become very common there too which reveals how deep and extensive the problem is.

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Sadat’s app will enable children and teenagers to contact a local voluntary organisation called 'Narail Volunteers'. The local police and administration have contact with this online organisation. They try to contact the concerned authorities whenever they get any information of cyber bullying. The children and teenagers are in the most vulnerable position in this regard and they become the victims of sexual harassment very often as they do not know how to protect themselves on the internet. Sadat’s app also has several tips on to avoid such accidents.

I have a request to Sadat and smart youth of Bangladesh like him. Please invent an app which can prevent rape. There have been systems of preventing rape and sexual offences through the use of technology in several countries of the world. Why cannot we make such a system in our country too?

Let me explain. The app I am talking about would be connected to a data bank. The details of the criminals involved in sexual offences throughout the year would be recorded in this data bank. Anyone would be able to send the details of the assailant to this data bank through this app. If the information is accurate, then the data bank would open the information of the offender for all in the shortest possible time. The site would also give details of the steps taken by the law enforcement agencies in these incidents.

Very few in Bangladesh are punished for rape. Most of them flee through the back door. Although most of them go unpunished, evidence does not vanish. Anyone can search for the information stored in the data bank through this app. In many cases the offenders flee from one place to another to save themselves. Despite changing address, they can be traced by online tracking. But to make this data bank meaningful, Sadat and his friends will not only need help from the police and local administration, but also a massive public relations campaign at the local and national levels. Massive support from the media is also important in this regard.

I am not saying that an app or data bank can certainly stop the crimes. However, if people know that it is not possible to remain unidentified after sexual harassment, they would think twice before committing a crime. Since long there has been a system of enlisting the accused and convicted persons in multiple rape cases in the US. The details of these convicted people, including their photographs, are available on the internet. These sexual offenders are bound to get them enlisted and acknowledge the concerned authorities whenever they change their address. There are even separate identity cards for the identified sexual offenders in many places such as Florida. The rule is most strict in the cases of sexual offences against the children. Apart from the details of their crime, there are rules for preserving the handprints, even DNA samples of the sexual offenders. It is a federal initiative, with special budgets for each state to follow the rules.

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Sadat of Narail thought about preventing cyber bullying and found a good solution to the problem. If the smart youth like him try to find a probable use of technology to prevent sexual offences, they will definitely find a way. I have full confidence in that

It is not that everyone supports this system of making such a government register. The people who oppose this rule argue that it is difficult to be re-established in society once a person is enlisted as a sexual offender. They lose their opportunity to get enrolled in colleges and universities; it becomes impossible for them to get a job, even to get a rented house.

Their argument is that no matter how big the offence is people should get the opportunity to re-establish them in the society after serving the sentences for their offences. Otherwise, they will be pushed towards the world of crime once again. One solution to this problem may be to remove the names of criminals who are considered safe after a certain deadline.

The tech-savvy youth of Bangladesh can do one more thing in the way shown by Sadat. The data bank would make the list of the offenders available. It would ensure that the offenders are not involved in crimes again. But for those who are facing immediate danger, this app or data bank would not be of any use to them.

Sadat and his friends may think about an app through which the probable victims of sexual harassment would be able to send an “alarm” in advance. For this a supporting network would be needed to be formed like the “Narail Volunteers”.

As soon as anyone senses a danger, he or she would send a “red alert” to the volunteers through the app at his fingertips. The network may be area based, campus based, or city based with the help of the administrations.

The incidents of sexual offences including rape happen mostly in the colleges and universities. Every one in four college-university students is sexually assaulted as a student in the US. To reduce the risk, students in the city of San Francisco have been given an app that allows them to file complaints before and after sexual assault. One effective side of this is that the victims do not feel “alone and helpless” due to the scope of sending immediate alarm. Besides, an aggressive male, in most cases a classmate or teacher, would think twice before sexual assault because of the widespread publicity of such a warning system. This system has proved to be effective in San Francisco.

I must admit, the examples I have given may not stop the crimes like rape. The problem of rape in Bangladesh has taken a terrible shape. In some cases, the police remain silent or they are amigos of the accused. A solution to this problem is to publish the names and other details of the offenders to put them to social shame. As the awareness of the crimes increase, so do the legal actions against the offenders.

All this may be utopian. The potential good and bad aspects of stopping sexual harassment through technology may not have been explained. But something needs to be done without looking to the police to take action in this regard. Sadat of Narail thought about preventing cyber bullying and found a good solution to the problem. If the smart youth like him try to find a probable use of technology to prevent sexual offences, they will definitely find a way. I have full confidence in that.

Hasan Ferdous is a writer and columnist

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

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