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Bangladesh protests demand state crackdown on rape

Unless sex offenders face consequences, more demonstrations will be held

Stephan Rozario and Rock Rozario, Dhaka

Stephan Rozario and Rock Rozario, Dhaka

Published: May 15, 2017 04:42 AM GMT

Updated: May 15, 2017 04:44 AM GMT

Bangladesh protests demand state crackdown on rape

Bangladeshi activists take to the streets in Dhaka on May 10 to demand justice for recent rape cases and called for strict law enforcement to curb sexual violence in the country. (ucanews.com photo)

Hundreds of students, writers and cultural activists demonstrated in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to demand stricter laws against sexual violence. 

The recent protests that began May 10 came after a series of shocking sexual assaults cases covered by the media, one involving a bed-ridden 80-year-old woman who was hospitalized after being allegedly raped by a neighbor.

According to prominent human rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), there were 93 reported rapes, 21 attempted rapes and five cases of murder after rape from January to March.

"We are aggrieved, saddened and we call for justice. From children to elderly woman nobody is safe," said Shipa Hafiza, ASK's executive director. "

"We see reports of violence everyday but no justice. The state must realize rape is not just a crime but a social and national disgrace," said Hafiza.

She blasted the government for recent changes to the child marriage law, that allows the marriage of girls under 18 in "special circumstances."

"The law legalizes rape because there are cases where the victim is forced to marry the rapist by way of compensation which only encourages the crime," she added.

Rita Rosaline Costa, convener of the Women's Desk at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh said that now rape victims speak up and the media plays a vital role in spreading awareness against sexual violence. "Yet, rape continues as our family, education and social system fails to enlighten our sons with moral education and so they are gripped by social vices," said Costa.

"Most legal cases linger for years, victims lose hope and eventually culprits don't get punished. This must end as it creates a vicious cycle," she added.

 

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Bangladeshi activists protested in Dhaka on May 10 to demand justice after several high-profile rape cases. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Bangladesh's Women and Child Repression Act cites a maximum punishment of life in prison for rape but it is rarely enforced making it useless in curbing sexual violence, said Fauzia Karim, a Supreme Court lawyer and president of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association.

"The legal system can't deliver because if the culprit is financially or politically influential the victim has no hope. Unless the government makes an effort to use the law effectively and empower all legal apparatus, nothing will change in case of sexual violence or rape," she added.         

The protesters issued a 72-hour ultimatum to the government to arrest alleged rapists or face further protests. 

Other cases related to sexual assaults included Hazrat Ali, a Muslim man from Gazipur district near Dhaka who killed himself and his eight-year-old daughter by jumping in front of a moving train on April 29. The incident came after he failed to get justice for the attempted rape of his daughter.

On March 28, two young university students were allegedly raped by Shafaat Ahmed and his friends Nayeem Ashraf and Sadman Sakif in a hotel in Dhaka during a party. Shafaat's driver and bodyguard held the women at gunpoint and filmed the entire incident.

Fearing the social stigma associated with rape, the women kept silent for weeks. Eventually they filed a report with local police on May 4.  

Initially, police refused to register the case, reportedly influenced by Shafaat's father Dildar Ahmed, the proprietor of Apon Jewelers, a top gold trading company. It was only after a public outcry that police charged five people on May 6 and two alleged rapists, Safaat and Sadman, were arrested on May 11

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