“A society without violence against women and children by 2025.” This is a goal that was outlined in Bangladesh’s national plan to combat gender-based violence. Violence against women and children continues to persist at an alarming rate in Bangladesh. The international community, as well as numerous human rights groups in the country, have expressed concern for the abuses taking place in the country against women, especially during COVID-19. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports a 70 percent increase in reported incidents on women and girls since the start of the pandemic, and this does not account for the incidents that were not reported. According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a human rights group based in Bangladesh, at least 235 women were murdered by their husband or his family in just the first nine months of 2020.
Acid and dowry-based attacks have been particularly prominent in the country, though sexual, physical, psychological and economic abuse has been recognized as forms of abuse by the government in 2010’s Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act (DVPP Act). Various other acts have been passed along the years such as the Nari-o-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain (Women and Children Repression Prevention Act) 2000, The Acid Offense Prevention Act, 2002 and The Acid Control Act, 2002. Acid attacks have been significantly lower since the passing of the 2002 act, though a high number is still reported. Though legislation has passed these acts, women still fear coming forward regarding violence for fear that the abuse will get worse and the justice system will fail them. The Danish government also recognized these abuses many years ago and in 2000, the Bangladesh government along with the Danish government adopted a program, referred to as the Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence Against Women (MSPVAW) as well as developing a National Action Plan to prevent violence against women and children in the country.
The criminal justice system in Bangladesh often fails victims of domestic abuse and HRW reports that police often refuse to file a report or conduct serious investigations in cases when the accused is influential in the community. HRW also reports that there is an extremely low conviction rate when it comes to domestic abuse cases stating, “in 2016, of the over 16,000 cases of violence against women under investigation, about 3 percent resulted in a conviction.”
Though Bangladesh’s government has attempted to pass legislation that will combat gender-based violence, it is the corruption within their criminal justice system that makes these attempts seem far from realistic. Women are often too terrified to come forward as they feel their accusations will not be taken seriously by police. Many women are also discouraged by family members to report incidents as they feel it will disgrace their family. Women that do come forward and are not dismissed by police initially, may then proceed with an investigation, that more often than not fails to conclude with a conviction. HRW reports that, “One of the most common reasons acid violence cases lead to acquittal or remain in open investigation for years on end is a lack of sufficient evidence.” Though cases may proceed, there are often biases within the justice system, as gender-based violence is seen as something normal in many households in Bangladesh. Police play a major role in sexual violence cases and the ruling that will occur. Lack of proper handling of a case, whether that is regarding evidence or sensitivity to the subject can often be the reason many abusers get away with their crimes.
Under international law, Bangladesh must ensure they are implementing the gender-based non-discriminatory rights that women should be guaranteed. The gender-based violence that unfortunately takes place against women and girls is a violation of the rights these women possess under international laws and treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). According to HRW, “Under international law, the government of Bangladesh has an obligation to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish violence against girls and women, and assist survivors.” Whether this is something that is actively enforced is questionable as the statistics surrounding gender-based violence are alarming.
Though Bangladesh hopes for “a society without violence for women and girls by 2025,” many would question whether this is ever a possibility. Numerous documents regarding this human rights issue have been in place for years, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act for example, having been introduced twenty years ago. Though the government seems optimistic and progressive in their efforts to combat gender-based violence, the corruption and sexist beliefs within their criminal justice system say otherwise.
With the stress of family pressure to not report abuse, the fear of not being taken seriously by authorities, or feeling like a trial will result in the abuser walking free, women in Bangladesh need support from outside sources. The government has failed for years to punish those who have committed crimes, setting the tone for future gender-based violence cases. There are other options that women can turn to; HRW sites many. Hotlines can be helpful and women may find themselves using them during situations where they are potentially in danger when a call to the police will not resolve anything. Bangladesh is also in need of shelters to house women who have the chance to escape abusive households and the international community and non-governmental organizations should assist in funding these safehouses for women and children. Pressure from the international community to better enforce the laws and treaties in place is essential to tackling this human rights violation. The international community must advocate for the woman and girls who cannot do so for themselves.
Within the justice system, proper training for police, harsher sentencing and helping to educate and remove the stigma surrounding gender-based violence would be the start towards a society that does not normalize abuse. HRW recommends educating children on the topics of consent, sexuality, and relationships in school, something the government can put in place and regulate accordingly. Police and courts also need to implement a proper and organized system when dealing with gender-based violence cases, as improper handling of evidence and reports often results in no conviction.
Bangladesh must work from the inside to fix what happens on the outside. Support from other countries may benefit in ensuring that treaties can be enforced to protect women and girls facing abuse. However, limiting women to the abuse that is outlined in documents may not account for other forms that women may face in their households. Women must feel encouraged and have confidence that justice will be served. Campaigning and raising awareness on gender-based violence can help empower these women and ensure their voices are heard.
With alarmingly high gender-based violence statistics, Bangladesh must consider the implications of this human rights issue and better understand how to combat it. To see a drastic drop in statistics and ensure abuse and murder cases against women and girls are no longer occurring, the government must step up and enforce the laws that are already in place. With eyes already on Bangladesh and with many women demanding an end to gender-based violence, it is up to the government to put pressure on the criminal justice system. With help from human rights groups and the international community shining a light on these abuses, there is hope these cases will drop and that women will receive the justice they have long deserved.