Bangladesh’s government has approved an amendment that would allow for the death penalty in rape cases. The decision comes as a result of angry protests in the South Asian country over incidents of sexual assault.
Cabinet Secretary, Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters in a news conference that the amendment was approved at a weekly meeting of the council of ministers headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Islam said the ministers approved the draft of the Women and Children Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the meeting held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill says anyone convicted of rape will be punished with death or “rigorous imprisonment” for life. The existing provision stipulates a maximum of life in prison for rape.
Law and Justice Minister, Anisul Huq said a presidential declaration is expected on Tuesday, 13th October for the new provision to come into effect.
The changes to the law were demanded by thousands of demonstrators across the Muslim-majority nation calling for more severe punishments for the perpetrators of sexual assaults.
The country witnessed unprecedented protests after a woman was stripped and sexually assaulted by a group of men in a remote southern village.
Police arrested eight suspects as a video of the assault went viral more than a month after the attack occurred at the victim’s home in Noakhali, nearly 200km (124 miles) southeast of the capital, Dhaka. The attackers shown in the video apparently included a man who had allegedly raped the woman in the video at gunpoint multiple times over the last year, based on an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Days before the Noakhali video went viral, the public was already riled up as members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the governing party, were arrested and charged with gang raping a woman in the northern town of Sylhet.
The demonstrators, mainly women students and activists who took to the streets in Dhaka and other cities, protested against the rising number of incidents of rape and sexual assaults reported in the media. They shouted “Hang the rapists” and “No mercy to rapists”.
“Bangladeshi women have had enough of the government’s abject failure to address repeated rapes and sexual assaults,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Bangladesh government needs to finally make good on its empty promises and heed activists’ calls to take meaningful action to combat sexual violence and to support survivors.”
It was the first time that Bangladesh had witnessed such large-scale protests against sexual violence over a prolonged period.
In a recent report, human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra said nearly 1,000 women were raped in the first nine months of the year – one-fifth of them being gang rapes – while 43 of the 975 victims were killed after being attacked.
The conviction rate for rape in Bangladesh is below 1 percent. A 2013 UN multi-country survey found that among men in Bangladesh who admitted to committing rape, 88 percent of rural respondents and 95 percent of urban respondents said that they had faced no legal consequences.