Innocence betrayed

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree reveals the reasons behind the alarming rise in rapes of minors in the country

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A normal school day, a child looking all tidy in a uniform starts for school; a day of struggle like every other, a street child starts for meeting the day’s end; a day full of household chores, the little maid starts by doing the dirty dishes- coming from apparently distinctive social platforms, these little ones have something in common- innate innocence and vulnerability.

On a normal school day of August 1, two eighth grade students were taken to a bush at knife-point by six local youths in Sujanagar of Pabna. The girls were raped and the incident was videotaped to be released on social media platform two days later.

On August 9, Nasim, a 25-year-old university student, allured his apparent girlfriend- a school girl, into going to a hotel where, of course, he forced himself on her.

On April 25, a student of class two from Satkhira, was sleeping at home alone as her parents went to watch TV at a neighbour’s house. She was picked up and taken to a field where 30-year-old Alim Morol violated her.

Recently, the incident of a girl who was held captive and raped twice or thrice a day for 17 days in Sylhet also came in the newspapers. Another girl in Tangail was kept locked for seven months and raped by one Badal Mia who confessed of the crime.

Picked up by a truck driver and his helper, a 15 year old girl was raped on a moving truck in Narayaganj. In a separate incident, imam Azizul Haque was arrested in July for attempting a rape of an eight-year-old in Sherpur.

All these cases have few things in common: either the parents were refused of the right of filing a case against the victim- by the police, because the criminals are powerful; or the criminals being backed by political power tried to bring a resolution which basically means the victim’s family was shut down after the assault altogether because they will have to pay a higher price next time if they do not listen.

Already, people know about Hazrat Ali, a father who being deprived of justice for the attempted rape of his daughter Ayesha, killed himself along with the daughter by jumping under a moving train. Who from among us can try to comprehend the immense pain this father went through!

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All these incidents along with many others, took place this year, in 2017, which we consider to be an advanced time in the history of our country, only to experience and witness, atrocities like these which remind us of the medieval ages.

These very real horror stories, however strongly we want to stay in denial of the fact as it vexes our calm, have become rather regular in Bangladesh. A study conducted by Brac says that 1.7 per cent of the total children were raped every day.

Child rape in the country spiked over last two years.

While law enforcement agencies are not coming to much help, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, some NGOs like Manusher Jonno Foundation, Save the Children Bangladesh and others are actively working toward curbing the dreadful trend and ensure justice. But nothing seems to have been successful for the cause.

According to information collected from national dailies by Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BKSF), 86 children were raped in 2012, 170 in 2013, 199 in 2014. The number increased abruptly to 521 in 2015, 446 in 2016 and finally, a total number of 336 children have been raped during the first seven months of 2017 alone.

From January 2012 to July 2017, 1,758 children have been raped. Among them, 237 were gangraped, 109 children were killed after rape and 36 children committed suicide in fear of social shame. 221 rapes were also attempted during this time. From 2012 till May 2017, 85 disabled and 19 boys were raped.

An analysis of the recent child rape incidents show that victims of child rapes are mostly 4-7 year olds who do not understand what is happening to them, making them the easy prey. In most cases, the rapists are relatives, neighbours or acquaintances of the victims and they use chocolates, toys or other fancy goods to entice them. The rapists either take them to an abandoned place or rape them in an empty house.

On the other hand, 13-18 year olds are raped after being convinced of a marriage, abduction by force or again, finding them in an empty house or secluded place.

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The main reason pointed out by child rights promoters and rights activists, is that most rapists are not being apprehended and tried, encouraging potential criminals to make their move on other victims. Even if a case is filed, there are always loopholes in the provided charge sheet, which makes it difficult for the victims, specially the poor or underprivileged ones, to take further actions. Moreover, it is difficult to find witnesses for the children.

Asked why this criminal tendency is on the rise, Dr Zia Rahman, chairperson of department of criminology at the University of Dhaka, says to New Age Xtra, ‘Social transformation, capitalisation, individualistic mindset, lack of discipline, the modern communication system, altogether a transition in social customs, is the reason behind this criminal mentality. People engaging in more pleasure-seeking activities, a trend of lawlessness, failing to keep people under rules – are also provoking these incidents.’

It needs to be mentioned that poor parents often withdraw charges in exchange of a little money, in fear of losing face in the society, being stressed by depraved questions by the defendant’s lawyer or after being forced by powerful people.

For providing immediate service to victims, National Helpline Centre for Violence against Women and Children was founded on June 19, 2012. The helpline number is 10921. Till November 2015, the centre received a total of 127,252 calls seeking legal support, treatment, counseling and other kind of supports that are needed. The problem seems to be that general people are not aware of this helpline centre. Also, the centre cannot provide required help in every case.

Asked about the overall child rape situation in the country and the government’s future steps regarding it, State minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroze Chumki says, ‘We are extremely sorry for this situation. We are trying our best to tackle this. Some poor families either withdraw or are forced to withdraw cases making it difficult for us to provide help. As far as the helpline is concerned, we are currently short of human resources, which needs to be fixed. We will also consider providing separate police desks for children’s affairs.’

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UNICEF has also been assisting the police force through their probation officers in every Upazila, helping in building a children court, providing information for speedy trials and making special investigation reports regarding child rapes and abuse. From 2016 till July 2017, verdicts were given to 42 cases of child rapes, none of these rapes took place in 2015 to 2017. Rather most of them happened in 2005-2014.

Shabnaaz Zahereen, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Bangladesh, tells New Age Xtra, ‘The police force needs an entirely separate section for the victim children so as to focus on them rather than keeping the cases pending. This is no way of handling such a sensitive issue.’

Director of BSAF, Abdus Shahid Mahmud informs New Age Xtra, ‘We need a political will to reserve more budget for the child victims and their rehabilitation in the national budget. Also, every police station may benefit from having a separate desk for dealing with child abuse issues, with officers who are trained to understand children’s psyche. Moreover, speedy trial for these cases is a must.’

When asked about what resolutions can possibly be made, Dr Zia says, ‘We need a strong social movement, an informal conviction system and a formal justice system. Sex education too can be a good resource and creating a public opinion in support of inclusion of sex education is much needed.’ He also suggests, ‘We need a psychological support system to deal with this criminal mindset which has come up as a byproduct of development.’