Violence against women is probably the most serious threat to overall development and progress of Bangladesh that the country has hitherto achieved. Widespread violence and repression in numerous forms jeopardize women’s life in almost all parts of the country. For quite some years now, the index of violence is fattening. For this situation, many blame lack of adequate legal protection and administrative failures to contain violence. Rampant terrorism and hooliganism add fuel to the fire, immediate victims of which are women. In 2001, the ongoing spate of violence against women and children reached a new height with rape incidents taking some unprecedented barbaric forms in some parts of the country. Also, acid throwing increased alarmingly. Abduction, murder and physical torture were also rampant. Incidents of dowry, dowry related violence such as physical torture and murder for dowry were common phenomenon, particularly in the rural areas. As a whole the year’s recorded facts and figures unearth a sad episode of the state of women in Bangladesh.
Rights of the child received recognition for the first time in 1924. The Declaration of the Rights of the child was adopted by the Fifth Assembly of the League of Nations wherein the rights of the child were first mentioned in an international document. The 1924 Declaration was followed by the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, which was aimed at granting children a series of benefits, protections and priorities. It proclaimed the principle that, “The best interest of the child” should guide the actions of those affecting children. The declaration provided the moral and legal basis for developing a binding treaty on the rights of the child. The rights granted in 1959 Declaration were later reaffirmed in the International Convent on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966.
Bangladesh signed CRC in 1990 becoming the 22nd country to be signatory to the Convention and ratified CRC in 1991. Since then, the government of Bangladesh has undertaken a number of commitments to guarantee the rights of children. A National Policy on Children (1994) and a National Plan of Action for Children, 1997-2002 identified seven major and 26 supporting sectoral goals incorporated into the International Summit Plan of Action. A slogan and public campaign titled ‘Say Yes’ for the children began in 2001 in Bangladesh as part of a global children’s movement. The 10-year Action Plan for the Girl Child entitled ‘Samata’, also demonstrated the Government’s commitment to promoting the equal treatment of girl children. Besides these commitments, Articles 15, 17, 27, 28 and 31 of the Bangladesh Constitution lay down the general principles regarding the protection of children and women from discrimination and abuse.
Women’s rights to equality and affirmative action in respect to equality are guaranteed in the Constitution. According to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law; the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth; women have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and public life; nothing shall prevent the state from making special provisions in favor of women or for the advancement of any backward section of the population. The situation for girls and women in Bangladesh is changing for the better, especially in terms of economic participation. The past decades have brought in significant improvements, including in terms of labor force participation or access to better sexual and reproductive health care, as evidenced by a drop in maternal mortality ratios. However, for women from poor, marginalized communities, and those living in remote locations, reproductive health related morbidity and mortality remains a serious challenge.
Nutritional status of women and girls is marked by sharp differences with that of men and boys. Health care for women is often restricted to their reproductive health. General health of women at all ages is often neglected. Women are married at a much lower age than men; mean age at marriage of women is 20.0 while that of men is 27.6. Early marriage, repeated pregnancy, and long child bearing spans have serious implications for women’s low nutritional status and high maternal mortality rate (4.4 per 1000 live births). As a whole, Bangladesh offers a society unfriendly towards women, to a great extent.
Undoubtedly, rape is a very depressing picture. This is the most heinous form of crime against women. Women have, for long, been being victimized thorough rape for, in cases, mere illicit erotic lust of men, or, in some other, as a means to express and expose masculine superiority over femininity. But the difference between rape in other countries and that in Bangladesh lies there that here the rapists go with impunity in most of the cases. A few convictions are reported, but that seems tiny in front of the massive scale of rape. It has twofold impacts on the society — firstly, it breaks down women’s mental and physiological strength, and, secondly, it poses the most serious threat to women’s economic as well as social empowerment. But bring an end result of national underdevelopment.
In most cases women are deprived of participation in any decision-making process in the family. Their opinion carries little weight in family matter, children’s education, marriage, divorce and guardianship of child, their own reproductive rights and even in case of choosing a job. Apart from these deprivations, women are also treated unequally regarding property. However, though a Muslim woman can claim half of the share from her ancestral property according to Islamic Sharia, she would rather get at least a part of it, lest her relation with her own family is severed. Hindu women get only limited share in the paternal property. This actually makes the Hindu women deprived of their inherent and constitutionally guaranteed rights. There is no system of divorce in Hindu law, which again tells badly upon the rights of Hindu women. The situation is unspeakable for a Hindu widow in that she can’t remarry under the existing laws of Bangladesh, although legislative changes to this effect have been brought about in India. Recently, it has been changed in Bangladesh also. In case of women belonging to Christian community, the same problem occurs while seeking divorce. It is because, there is no divorce allowed in Christian law.
Although it is a criminal offence, domestic violence is not exposed to the social attention in Bangladesh. An inherent barrier between domestic violence and other forms of violence has developed in this society. Very few cases are reported and number of cases filed on most of the issues (expect for murder and grievous physical assault) is almost nil.
The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar VDP.