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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 35
September 1, 2007

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Star Law Analysis
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Human Rights Monitor
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Star Law Analysis

Combatting acid violence and rape

Women in Bangladesh make up roughly 49% of the population. They bear a disproportionately greater share of the country's poverty and are discriminated against in both the public and private sphere. Patriarchal, class based, repressive and community mind-sets, certain social behaviours, economic dependence, financial insecurity and high illiteracy keep a majority of the women out of an equal position within the family, society, and the overall development process of the country.

Violence against women
Gender violence is a major issue in Bangladesh and, unfortunately, one that is neglected -especially as it relates to the poor and underprivileged women - by various government agencies of. Despite specialized criminal laws for protecting women the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act, the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Child Marriage Restraint Act, the Acid Crime Control Act, to name a few instances of violence against women- especially domestic violence and rape have not decreased in any significant manner. The major reasons why women do not get justice are: barriers to accessing the justice system itself, police corruption, mismanagement of vital evidence, ignorance of the law and a lack of proper medical reports.

Rape and physical violence
The number of women who experience violence including rape, beatings, torture and murder is high in impoverished sections of society and particularly women who live in rural areas of Bangladesh, both in domestic situations and outside the home. In addition, many women who are subjected to violence die by suicide, real or apparent. A study by Odhikar revealed the following:

Despite the fact that in most cases the victim knows the violator, the perpetrator often escapes the law through bribery, power and a culture of impunity. In some instances, the protectors of society have become violators, as members of law enforcement agencies are accused of rape and sexual abuse, but are rarely brought to justice under the Code of Criminal Procedure and Penal Code.

Acid violence
Acid violence is the term used for the violence perpetrated when a person throws a corrosive substance like acid on the face or body of another person. Unfortunately, it has become a relatively common form of violence against women in Bangladesh. The first documented case of acid violence was in 1967 when a young girl had acid poured on her by her 'admirer' when the girl's mother refused his proposal of marriage. There is evidence in recent years that there has been an increase in acid attacks.

Victims are attacked for many reasons - because a young girl or woman spurns the sexual advances of an admirer or rejects a marriage proposal for example. Recently, however, there have been acid attacks on children, older women and sometimes on men. These attacks are often the result of family or land disputes, dowry demands or a desire for revenge. Acid violence drastically changes the life of the victim impacting their education, employment and other aspects of normal life. Acid attack survivors are traumatized physically, psychologically and socially. Acid violence drastically changes the life of the victim including education, employment and other aspects of normal life. Survivors often have to face social isolation that further damages their self-esteem and confidence and undermines their professional and personal future.

What of the availability of acid? Unfortunately, acid is sold openly in chemist and homeopathy shops and local medicine dispensaries and can be found in goldsmith workshops and shops selling and repairing car batteries. It is also openly sold around the tannery and handloom factories. Despite the law, there are no checks as to the trade in acid and other corrosive substances and those selling the liquid ask no questions. There is even, allegedly, a good trade in cross-border smuggling in acid, which may play a role in contributing to the high rate of acid violence in the border districts.

The laws:
Adding to the relevant criminal liabilities under the Penal Code for rape, attempted rape, kidnapping, hurt, and grievous hurt, etc., the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act 2000 provides for severe penalties for perpetrators of violence against women. A further significant step has been taken by the Government of Bangladesh by enacting the Speedy Trial Tribunal in November 2002 for the quick trial and disposition of five specified offences including murder and rape.

The President of the Peoples' Republic of Bangladesh approved the Acid Control Act 2002 and the Acid Crime Control Act 2002 on 17 March 2002. The laws were promulgated to meet the demands that acid crimes be controlled, perpetrators receive swift punishment, and that the trade in acid and other corrosive substances be guarded by legal checks and balances to prevent their easy accessibility.

A lot of thought has been given to the drafting of these laws, especially in the area of compensation to the victim, carelessness of the investigation officer, availability of bail, magistrate's power to interview at any location, medical examinations and protective custody, the setting up of an Acid Crime Control Council and (District) Acid Crime Control Committees, establishing rehabilitation centres, licenses for trade in acid, etc.

According to the Acid Crime Control Act, this law aims to rigorously control acid crimes. It provides for stringent punishments ranging from imprisonment for between three and fifteen years, life imprisonment and the death sentence. The variations of punishment depend on the gravity of the crime. Interestingly, the Act provides that if the Acid Crime Control Tribunal feels that the investigating officer has lapsed in his duty in order to 'save someone from the liability of the crime and did not collect or examine usable evidence' or avoided an important witness, etc., the former can report to the superior of the investigating officer of the latter's negligence and may also take legal action against him.

The Acid Control Act 2002 has been introduced to control the "import, production, transportation, hoarding, sale and use of acid and to provide treatment for acid victims, rehabilitate them and provide legal assistance". The National Acid Control Council has been set up under this act, with the Minister / Advisor for Home Affairs as its Chairperson. Under this Council, District-wise Committees have been formed albeit, only in six or seven Districts to date. Members of the Council include the Minister / Advisor for Women and Children Affairs, Secretaries from the Ministries of Commerce, Industry, Home Affairs, Health, Women and Children Affairs, and representatives from civil society as specifically mentioned in the law. This allows for a broad spectrum of representation. More importantly, according to this law, businesses dealing with acid need a license to do so, and the government has arranged for a Fund to provide treatment to victims of the violence and to rehabilitate them, as well as to create public awareness about the bad effects of the misuse of acid.

Source: Odhikar & Action Aid.


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