Amid growing anger and widespread protests, Bangladesh’s government on Monday approved the use of capital punishment in rape cases. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the cabinet met online and approved changes to a law that would enable the courts to sentence any convicted rapist to death.
According to Law and Justice Minister Anisul Haq, President Abdul Hameed was expected to sign the “Prevention of Women and Child Harassment (Amendment) Bill” on Tuesday.
The current laws of the country order life imprisonment for rape convicts, but now the courts will be able to choose between that punishment and death. The parliament of Bangladesh did not need to consider a change in the law as it is only a change of the existing law.
The government drafted and passed the law after weeks of angry, unprecedented protests in South Asian nations following a series of high-profile rapes.
Anger had been brewing against the government and police for alleged inaction in several rape cases for months, but a 30-minute-old woman was stripped and sexually assaulted by a group of men, which quickly spread on social media , Heavy protests erupted. in the weekends.
Police have now arrested eight suspects for an on-camera attack more than a month ago in Noakhali, about 120 miles southeast of the capital Dhaka.
Only “acting tough”?
While the punishment is severe, many activists who joined protests in Bangladesh and who led the campaign for change told CBS News that the government’s move is more police-free than a meaningful commitment to protecting women.
He says that most of the protesters never demanded the death penalty, as many do not consider it the real solution to the country’s sexual violence problem.
“The government strategically chose a road that would allow them to avoid accountability,” Uma Zillur, a member of the Feminists Across Generation Alliance, who has been battling gender-based violence in Bangladesh for many years, told CBS News. “We will not accept it.”
Zillur is one of the organizers of the #RageAgainstRape protest that threw stones at Bangladesh over the weekend. He said that voluntary participation of high school students was unprecedented.
“Nowhere in our demand did we ask for the death penalty … because we know that the death penalty is going to lower the punishment rates, will increase the murder after rape, and at the end of the day it will help us in any way Not going to do. ”
Activists believe that in Bangladesh, rapes often go unpunished due to social stigma, a lengthy justice process, low conviction rates and the fear of harassment by criminals.
Shahidin Malik, a senior advocate (lawyer) in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, told CBS News that convicts in rape cases in Bangladesh have a conviction rate of less than 3%. He said this is due to the inability of a large section of the country’s police or not being ready to properly gather and handle forensic evidence.
Malik said, “They are badly educated and they are not sensitive.” “Our police is a male dominated force that does not even consider rape a serious crime.”
Zillur and Malik, like many others, believe that the government is not focusing on fighting the core problem because it is reducing the pressure of an angry public. They see the death penalty as a knee-jerk reaction to protests.
Taqbir Huda, a research expert at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), told CBS News that under the current Bangladeshi law,Or convicted of rape.
“The death penalty was a very available option for the Noakhali incident,” he said. “The government is trying to give the impression that they are working hard.”
Supreme Court lawyer Malik said, “If the government decides to clamp down on the protesters tomorrow, they will not be surprised.”
“Rape has become a culture”
Instead of capital punishment, protesters have called for a systemic change in a country of 170 million people, where advocacy groups estimate that around four women are raped every day.
Rights group Ain o Salish Kendra, which has a share of rape statistics in the country, says that 975 women have been raped already this year, one fifth of them gang-raped. The number of rapes is not specifically listed in government data, instead they are lumped together with a wide range of crimes against women in the category of “suppression of women and children”.
Researcher and activist Huda stated that some major demands to overcome the problem include a law for the protection of witnesses; A broad definition of rape that includes marital rape; And the government’s efforts to raise national awareness of the implications of sexual violence.
“We want a long-term solution, not a situation where we will protest on the streets 20 years down the road,” Huda said.
The protesters were to meet on Tuesday to plot their next move to keep the pressure on the government.
Meera Sushmita, a student who participated in the weekend’s protests, said, “The problem is not that we don’t have strong laws. The problem is that rape has become a culture in our country.”
“It is common and common in Bangladesh to convict women for rape,” he said. “People believe that women are raped because the way they dress is [considered] Modern for this country too. ”
Sushmita, an anti-rape network member, now focuses on raising awareness through a public campaign, trying to educate people about consent and the seriousness of rape. He and friends chanted slogans on Monday to make murals and walls around Dhaka, trying to get the message across.
Many young women from Bangladesh, including Zillur and Sushmita, expected protests and reactions to them. Now they are more determined than ever that the kind of change they call for can make a real difference.