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The legal struggle of defining male rape in Bangladesh

  • Published at 05:30 pm June 5th, 2021
STOP RAPE Representational Photo
Representational image Dhaka Tribune

There is a dilemma in Bangladesh’s existing legal system in ensuring justice for male rape victims 

Amir (not his real name) trembled with fear every time he saw his 18-year-old madrasa teacher Kefayet.

Parents of the eight-year-old had no clue why their son reacted in that “particular way” every time Kefayet was around. They found it quite difficult to process the unwillingness of their son to not go back to the madrasa after returning home due to sickness. 

Despite all the obvious warning signs, all they heard were “excuses” and failed to realize Amir’s desperate cry for help.

The sight of Kefayet standing there to welcome Amir and his parents as they dropped him off to his madrasa only brought sheer horror and helplessness to the eight-year-old. This time, Amir’s parents could not anymore ignore what was right in front of them and were forced to intervene. 

To their horror, they found out that their son, a mere eight-year-old, was being repeatedly raped by Kefayet. 

Also Read - Writ filed with High Court seeking inclusion of male rape as a crime

Following the revelation, a case was filed against the culprit under Section 377 of Bangladesh Penal Code of 1860 by Amir’s father who, in his statement said that the accused took his son to the rooftop of the madrasa and raped him “against the order of nature.” 

There is a dilemma in Bangladesh’s existing legal system in ensuring justice for male victims of rape as the offence is still considered to be an offence committed exclusively against women. This faulty notion is making it difficult for more discussions on male rape, keeping the subject a taboo with negative connotations.

The country, in recent times, has seen a spike in the number of cases regarding sexual harassment, abuse, or rape towards male children. And yet most of these cases remain unreported as the victims do not get legal aid and the cases are filed under Section 377 of the Bangladesh Penal Code of 1860, which is not the applicable legal provision in such cases. 

The said section states, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment] for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”

If the provision is carefully read, it can be found that “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal..” which means that Section 377 provides the punishment for voluntary carnal intercourse against the order of nature.

Also Read - Rapes in madrasas: Breaking the silence

It is to be noted that minor boys under the age of 16 are to get protection under the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act 2000, however, a number of such rape cases are still being filed under Section 377.

Meanwhile, teenage boys over 16 and adult males do not have this protection since they fall outside the definition of rape because of their gender and age. 

When contacted, Taqbir Huda, research specialist at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and coordinator of Justice for All Now (Jano), Bangladesh, said that there should be a gender-neutral definition of rape that would extend legal protection to any person who is subjected to this crime. 

“Rape can be committed by anyone to any individual. Undoubtedly this offence has a heavily gendered impact in that it is overwhelmingly committed by men against women or girls. But this should not mean that rape should have a heavily gendered definition in the law,” he said.

“Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act 2000 states that children can also be a victim of rape, however, it defines anyone under the age of 16 as a child.   

“There is a legal grey area for child rape as we have conflicting legal definitions of children. While the aforementioned act defines a child to be anyone under the age of 16, the Children Act 2013 [as per global standards], defines a child as anyone who is under the age of 18. 

“However, they are both ‘special laws’ which are meant to have an overriding effect on other laws, it is not exactly certain which definition of child would prevail in the case of a non-female child aged over 16 but under 18. Ideally, the broader definition in this act should be upheld,” he explained. 

Echoing the same, Tania Haque, professor at the women and gender studies department of Dhaka University (DU) said that men do not tend to report rape because of “masculinity crisis.” 

“For centuries, women have been seen as the victim [of rape] and men are considered as the protector. They have this mindset that getting raped means they are not masculine enough,” she said.

The stigma around male rape, regardless of their age, is not less than the stigma surrounding female rape cases, she added.

“We have a patriarchal setting that victimizes men as well. They cannot speak up even though it is usually the women who are victim-blamed after reporting a sexual offence,” she said, adding that this sense of “loss of manliness” has a significant role in the underreporting of incidents of sexual violence against males.  

According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a human rights organization, total 31 cases of rape of minor boys (aged between seven to 18) were reported this year.

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