Women safety laws are accurate but inadequate
Justice Krishna Iyer of the Indian supreme court remarked, "A murderer kills the body but a rapist kills the soul". Though this heinous crime causes damage to such extreme depth, other forms of sex offenses also have similar effects which we do not usually talk about as much in mainstream media.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in Bangladesh about the judicial process of rape and the lack of punishment of the rapist. The law has been reformed according to people's demands as well. Current women's safety laws are scattered in various statues. Major such laws are the Penal Code 1860, The Code of Criminal Procedure 1898, Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 (NSND), Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Act, 2014, etc.
Analyzing the related laws, it has been seen that there is ambiguity about the trial of rape victims of any gender, religion, caste, tribe, ethnicity, or disability. The opportunity to testify in rape cases is limited for people with language disabilities, hearing impairments, and intellectual disabilities. Counselling benefits are not provided considering the age and mental health of the victim. There is no provision for security of the victim, time limit for collection of DNA samples, and testimony of the reporter.
The current laws do not address the issue of transgender women seeking access to justice for rape. As a result, they are also staying out of the judicial process. There is no provision in the law for regular training and guidelines for judges, lawyers, forensic experts, and social workers. As a result, there is an opportunity for those concerned to avoid responsibility. This leaves the possibility of delaying the trial.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court and the High Court Division has issued a number of judgments and orders in this regard on the basis of various cases due to the ambiguity in the trial and judicial process of rape. Among these, on April 12, 2016, the High Court ruled with two directives banning the 'two-finger test' method for victims. On May 26, 2016, in a rape case, the court gave 16-point instructions on DNA tests within 48 hours. These disseminated sources of laws should be compiled in one statue.
There is a need for full-fledged legislation to ensure a trial for the rape of persons with disabilities, specific provisions for media personnel to interview rape victims, ensuring the safety of the victim and the presence of witnesses with the police, punishment for submission of false report by forensic doctor and police, ensuring victim counselling, case management costs, and compensation benefits. A complete special law is also needed to ensure justice for marital rape, rape of transgender, tribal, and disabled people.
Also, functioning laws do not cover all sorts of sex offenses. Sexual harassment through online medium is being tried under the ICT Act, 2006--as harassments. Women can be harassed using the internet to various degrees. These actions should be classified accordingly. Sexual assault, sexual favours, verbal harassment of a sexual nature, unwanted physical contact, unwelcome advances, pressuring to engage with someone sexually, etc should all be defined.
Women in our streets are being victims of sexual harassment in the name of eve-teasing every time they go out. It's in such a dark condition that victims are learning to get used to it instead of speaking against or filing complaints because the process is not as simple as it should be compared to the magnitude and frequency at which it is taking place. Section 76 of The Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance, 1976 provides penalty for teasing women with up to one year imprisonment, or two thousand taka fine, or with both. Is this provision enough?
These punishments if applied properly would have served as an adequate solution. But the ground reality is different; victims tend not to file any complaints due to the absence of an easier method to register complaints. As a result, these crimes are increasing at an exponential rate and ultimately creating a notion in the culprits' mind that all such crimes would go unpunished. This could play a major role in paving the road to rape.
There should be complaint filing methods like an app, website, email, or call based complaint systems. That way more and more of such crimes would come to the appropriate authority's notice, and actions against them could alleviate this scenario from its dire condition.
Filing a case against an Eve-teaser or such other less severe sex offenders and going through the long arduous process seems too much for a victim to undergo. NSND 2000 should provide provision for quick arbitration of less severe sex offenses in a matter of days. Every city, town, metropolitan, upazila according to the size and needs of the area should have an official who deals with such complaints.
Before the amendment, NSND 2000 provided life imprisonment to rape convicts, and the death penalty, if the victim dies or killed. From a legal perspective that seems an accurate penalty. Our present issue with the increasing number of rape incidents is not due to lack of punishment but from lack of justice. The newly enacted amendment of NSND provides the death penalty to a rapist and monetary compensation. There is a high possibility that these provisions could be misused.
A study, conducted jointly by the BRAC University School of Law and UNDP, found that the conviction rate is surprisingly low in the cases filed under the NSND 2000. The root cause for the finding was found to be the high rate of false accusations.
Given such history, the freshly enacted amendment could be misused to extort money. Also, a person, false or fallaciously accused of rape, if convicted with the death penalty, would give rise to an increasing number of erroneous judgments. That could also surge murder after rape and disappearance. A rapist wouldn't want the most valuable evidence, here the victim, to live and testify against him, which would definitely mean his own death.
No matter how comprehensive a statue is it's just another piece of paper--unless people know the gist. So, public awareness and publicity of the law are very important. Human rights organizations, Governmental and non-governmental organizations should come forward to strategically increase mass public awareness regarding these issues.
If we let sexual harassments go unpunished and feed the idea of 'Rape free Bangladesh', it does not make any sense. The functional laws though accurate should be made adequate to cover and provide provisions for all kinds of sex offenses. Strict clauses for the prevention of false, frivolous cases should also be made as a safeguard against misuse. Overall, ensuring accountability of the authority concerned is a must.
The writers are students of Department of Law, University of Rajshahi