Violence against women of all ages, races and social strata have been on the rise in an alarming rate, rights activists deplore, whereas their contribution to the country’s development is significant.
The number and extent of reported incidents of sexual harassment, rape, torture, acid attack and murder is shocking, but activists warn that the actual scenario is worse since over two-thirds of the incidents go unnoticed.
The scenario has not changed during the tenure of the current government though it took different measures to curb the incidents of violence, speakers alleged at a programme in Dhaka yesterday.
The press conference was organised by Amrai Pari (We Can Bangladesh) to mark the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women. Earlier they formed a human chain in front of the National Press Club.
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A Jhenaidah farmer, Shahanur Biswas, came under violent attack on October 16 for protesting against sexual harassment of his younger daughter, who is a class VII student. His legs had to be amputated during treatment in Dhaka.
The schoolgirl and her family members are now scared to go back home at Kaliganj of the district as most of the accused are roaming freely. Now she blames herself for everything. The victim's elder sister said the stalkers had forced her to discontinue studies after her first year bachelor’s exam in 2013.
At the press conference, the victim said: “My father lost his legs because of me.
“I stopped going to school as the stalker started harassing me on the streets. But they attacked my father as he protested. Now they are threatening us as we filed cases.”
Elder sister of the schoolgirl also stopped attending her bachelor’s degree classes in 2013 after being harassed by the local youths.
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Ramjan Ali and Tania Hossain, parents of Suraiya Akter Risha – a class VIII student at Willes Little Flower School in the capital who was stabbed by a stalker and died in August, were also present at the press conference sobbing all the time.
They urged the government to ensure speedy trial in the case and exemplary punishment of Risha’s killer Obaidul, a cutting master at a tailoring house in Dhaka, to stop recurrence of such incidents.
Police filed charge sheet in the case on November 15 with a Dhaka court under Section 302 of the Penal Code.
More than 300 women from all walks of life including survivors, activists, teachers, students, garment workers and villagers attended the human chain programme and demanded an end to violence against women.
National Coordinator for We Can Alliance Jinat Ara Haque said that in the last nine months, the country experienced a wave of sexual abuse, rape, gang-rape, murder and other forms of violence against women which is alarming.
We Can estimates that from January to September, 301 women were raped, 152 gang-raped, 26 killed after rape, 149 killed by husbands, 111 were sexually harassed while 28 others were subjected to acid attack.
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According to a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics report from last year, 23% women disclose information of violence against them while only 3% seek legal remedy.
Former adviser to a caretaker government Sultana Kamal, also the chairperson of We Can Alliance, said: “Day by day, the incidents of violence against women are increasing. On the other hand, a perpetrator can easily escape justice because of the loopholes in the existing laws.”
She observed that the situation could be improved if “we can stop this trend of injustice and give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators.”
Sultana Kamal also added that after the incidents of sexual harassment or rape, family members and neighbours blame the victims, for which some commit suicide.
We Can Bangladesh also placed five-point demands to the government, judiciary and the law enforcement agencies.
The rights group says in any case of violence against women, there should be a “zero tolerance” policy, the judicial process must be speedy, the survivor should be given necessary security, steps should be taken to remove any obstruction in the process of getting justice, and priority should be given for the implementation of all the existing laws to upheld women rights.
Co-Chairperson of We Can Alliance MB Akhter, gender expert Fawzia Khondker Eva, and Coordinator (rights) of Manusher Jonno Foundation Banasree Mitra Neogi also spook at the press conference.
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Earlier in the day, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad staged a human chain and brought out a procession in front of the National Press Club as a part of their 15-day programme to mark the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women.
Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam asked policymakers and law makers of the country to take firm stance to end violence against women and ensure that no perpetrator goes unpunished.
Ain o Salish Kendra data
At least 89 women and seven children were killed from January to September while three others committed suicide due to torture for dowry by their in-laws. The number of women injured due to torture for dowry was 93.
The rights body reports at least 28 incidents of acid attacks on women and children in the first nine months. Four of the victims were children while one of the victims attacked for dowry died while undergoing treatment. Only nine cases were filed over the 28 incidents.
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At least eight women were subjected to torture through fatwa or village arbitration across the country during the nine months. Four of them were banished from their village. Legal action was sought in only two of the incidents.
Twenty-six cases were filed over the deaths of 30 domestic helps in torture, three suicide, 14 torture and two rape incidents across the country. Of the victims, 30 are children.
At least 58 women were killed by their husbands and in-laws while 10 by their own families during the time. The dead include 18 children.
Only 135 cases were filed in the 305 incidents of domestic violence occurred during the period, ASK says.
At least 512 incidents of rape were reported in media since January. Of the victims, 26 were killed after rape. The number of gang-rape was 152, of who 64 are aged 13-18 years.
More than half of the rape victims were children. Of the 341 children raped, 37 are aged below six, 121 are aged 7-12 and 183 between 13 and 18 years.
On the other hand, at least six men and five women were killed for protesting against sexual harassment, while six women committed suicide since January.
Another 94 women and 17 men were subjected to torture and assault for resisting stalkers, while 61 men who came forward to help the victims were injured in clashes with the stalkers. Four girls stopped going to school after facing sexual harassment during this time.