Sexual harassment of women and children is an act of gender discrimination and violation of human rights. In Bangladeshi society, many women and children are compelled to deal with harassment and unwarranted attention as they lack in power and self-confidence and there is the domination of social stigma in the society.
In the recent past, incidents of sexual harassment of women and children by men have escalated to a great extent. Every day, it is reported that a number of women and children are getting sexually harassed by men. The situation has exceeded all the boundaries when it is reported that children at the age of 4-5 years are also getting sexually harassed. In a statement, rights group organisation Odhikar stated that the incidents of child rape have transcended reported rapes of adult women. According to their statement, a total of 2,788 minor girls and 1,597 women were raped during 2012 to October 2017. This type of incident indicates that these people have become crazy and psychologically sick. The sternness of the situation is so complex that the government could not even stop such incidents despite their efforts.
Traditionally, women in Bangladesh are subject to harassment inside and outside their homes. But, over the periods of time, women have become vulnerable as they are found unsafe in the market place and even in transport. Recently, stories of women being sexually harassed in public buses and minibuses even in the capital went viral on news and social media. On August 25, 2017, a 27 year old woman Rupa was raped and killed on a bus heading to Mymensingh by the driver and three of his assistants. This was such an atrocious and fierce act that created an emotional breakdown among most of the people of the country. Rupa’s is not the only incident of such brutal sexual harassment, rather many women and children are getting sexually harassed in Bangladesh every day. Thus, the issue deserves the immediate attention of not only the government, but also all involved actors.
One may wonder, whether sexually harassed women and children are getting justice or not? As a matter of fact, a number of issues are depriving them of justices. First of all, a lengthy trial process that is making the victims more vulnerable. Several newspaper sources state that, on an average, a victim has to wait at least four years in order to get full justice. Moreover, in the legal process, the victim has to face a lengthy trial process where she is asked many awkward questions. Thus, many of the victims and their families lose interest to show up at the court. The second issue is related to the local and political pressure on the victims’ families. If the perpetrators belong to a well-off and politically powerful family, he intimidates the family members of the victims and compels them to reach an informal settlement. The third factor namely the inefficiency of the investigators in probing cases is also depriving the victims of justice.
Now, a pertinent question is: what measure needs to be taken in order to overcome this situation? A holistic approach needs to be taken by the government to combat this epidemic. The government should start their initiative from the society as we are living in a closed society where there is a stigma on issue relating to sex. Thus, children do not grow-up with an understanding about this issue. Since they do not get proper understanding and education, they feel the urge to know more about this issue privately. In developed countries it is evident that students are given orientation on this issue as part of the curriculum at their teenage. Thus, they take this issue very lightly. It does not necessarily mean that incidents of sexual harassment do not take place in developed countries. But, the intensity of such incidents is very low there. Under this circumstance, the government should think of inserting the issue of different dimensions of growing ages in the national curriculum. This will definitely bring a change in the mindset of both boys and girls that would ultimately make them less vulnerable over the periods of time. In addition, the government and NGOs should carry out awareness development programmes throughout the country with an intention to build public opinion against sexual harassment of women and children.
The government also needs to think about bringing changes in the legal procedure. Special tribunals need to be formed for dealing with cases of sexual harassment. Along with tribunals, special legal frameworks are also required for ensuring justice to the victims. If the perpetrators are punished within a reasonably short time, others would dare to do the same thing. Although it is not possible to compensate whatever the victim has lost, but the victims and their family members would heave a sigh of relief if they get justice. Setting-up of special tribunals and enactment of laws would not be sufficient to stop sexual harassment against women and children. The government requires paying special attention to effective implementation of these initiatives.
Another important issue is that the society does not accept the victims gladly. Thus, once someone experiences this vulnerability, she is compelled to carry the pain throughout her life. In order to bring these victims out of their trauma, societal actors need to play an important role in facilitating the process of mainstreaming of these women and children into the society. Civic education could work as a mechanism to mould public opinion in this regard.
Historically, women and children have remained susceptible not only to sexual harassment, but also other forms of physical and mental harassment in Bangladesh. One of the main drivers of harassment of women is the cultural patterns in general and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices. We should bear in mind that the Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh has ensured equal rights for all. No women and children should be harassed sexually only on gender dimension. If they are harassed, their human right is violated. Thus, all involved actors will have to come forward with an open mind and a holistic approach needs to be taken to face the challenges of the sexual harassment against women and children in Bangladesh which has recently been intensified expeditiously.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.