A rape victim (right) and her mother lay on a stretcher next to Bangladeshi police for protection at a hospital in Bogra on July 30, 2017. The victim’s head was shaved as punishment by the accused's wife in a case that shocked the country. (AFP photo)
Grief-stricken Abdus Salam had the internal fortitude to stand at the dais of a police media center in Bangladesh to talk about the shocking rape and murder of his 7-year-old daughter.
"I urge the country's people to stay alert so that your daughters do not fall prey to the brutality my daughter was subjected to," Salam said on July 7. "I could not save my daughter. Try to protect your daughters."
A man named Harun-Or-Rashid, who is aged in his mid-20s and was staying with a relative in the same apartment block as victim Samia Afrin Saima, has allegedly confessed.
Police say Harun admitted to luring the child to the apartment building's roof on July 5 by promising to show her the view. After raping Samia, he strangled her with a piece of rope so that she would not later be able to identify him.
Police said they arrested Harun about 100 kilometers southeast of Dhaka on July 7, they same day Salam spoke at the police media center.
The case has sparked public and media outrage in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which has experienced an alarming rise in sexual assaults on children.
Bangladesh has recorded 496 cases of alleged child rape, including 53 involving gang rape, so far this year, a national coalition called the Bangladesh Child Rights Forum said on July 8. This compared to 571 proved or alleged cases of child rape in the whole of 2018, the forum added.
The rights group called for the introduction of the death penalty for child rapists and identified factors behind the increase in such crimes as protracted trials, inadequate punishments and a wider decline in social values.
A leading women's rights organization, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, told a media conference this week that there were 2,083 reported cases of sexual violence against women and girls between January and June this year.
In the period 2014-19, there were 25,222 reported cases of sexual violence including rape and murder of women and girls in Bangladesh, the group said.
Teachers turn rapists
In recent weeks, Bangladeshi police arrested four teachers including two madrasa (Islamic school) principals for rape or other forms of sexual assault on minor students.
On July 7, police apprehended an imam 120 kilometers north of Dhaka after an 11-year-old girl told her parents that he raped her. The imam allegedly confessed to also raping an 8-year-old girl and sexually molesting six others.
Three days earlier, police arrested the principal of a madrasa near Dhaka and charged him with child rape and sexual assaults involving 12 students.
The accused allegedly forced the victims to pledge on the Quran that they would not complain about what he had done. A seized laptop allegedly stored clips of offenses being committed but, while confessing, the madrasa principal claimed to have been "possessed" by an evil spirit.
And on July 1, police arrested a headmaster in Dhaka over the rape of a ninth-grade student who was allegedly threatened with having her academic marks cut if she did not stay silent.
On June 28, locals in the city of Narayanganj in central Bangladesh beat up and handed over to police a teacher accused of raping about 20 students.
Social and legal downfall
"No girl or woman is safe in a country where a 7-year-old child can be raped and murdered,” said Rita Roselin Costa, convener of the Women's Desk at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh.
The cultural virus of rape has infected many teachers who are supposed to be role models for young people, Costa, who has three daughters, told ucanews.com.
And the failure of some teachers to infuse their students with a sense of human values meant they could grow up to offend against women and girls amid a culture of impunity.
Rapists ranged from rich men who could evade justice by using their money and connections to people such as bus drivers, rickshaw pullers and day laborers, Costa added.
Sociologist Shah Ehsan Habib said that, for several decades families, schools, the legal system and religions had not adequately fulfilled their purpose of nurturing good human beings.
"Love and affection for children are supposed to be inbuilt among men, but instead a sexual aggression has developed," he told ucanews.com. "This is a dangerous trend."
A perverted psychology drove many men to consider females — women and girls of all ages — only as sources of pleasure, Habib added. Unfortunately, there were unethical madrasa teachers who read the Quran as a "mechanical act" and then raped their students, he said.
Costa and Habib agree that, amid globalization, the representation of women as commodities has influenced some Bangladeshi men to quench their lust in unethical and illegal ways.
And they both maintain that the menace of sexual violence will not stop until men afford equal treatment and respect to women and girls.