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Sexual Abuse In Bangladesh: A Silent Suffering of the 90% Bangladeshi Girls

“He touched my belly, and I could not stop him because I was scared that if I utter a word in my protection, people around me will come to know about this incident at the moment which will bring shame to me. So, I bear it that day for that moment,” Sonia (fake name on her request to be anonymous), an undergraduate student of an university of Chittagong, describes her feeling about a moment of sexual harassment that she faced just a few years ago. In a country like Bangladesh where almost 90% of girls aged 10-18 are victims of public sexual harassment (according to the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association), most cases of sexual harassment often stays unreported and unpunished due to the young girls’fear of being socially rebuked or being the part of “social gossip.”

Sonia describes her story, “It was the orientation day at our university. To attend the program, we were going to a community hall by a minibus. We were 15 girls in the minibus. Suddenly a man came and got into the bus with us. He sat in a sit that was right in the back of my sit. I did not know who that man was. When the minibus started to move, I felt that someone was touching my belly. I tried to move away from my sit, but there was not enough space for me to move farther away. I did not know what to do. I felt like crying. But I did not say a single word. I was scared that if I say something the girl next to me will come to know about it and it will be such a shame for me. It took almost forty minutes for us to reach the venue, and I still did not forget that horrified forty minutes of my life.”

According to a report published by Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (ASK), a human rights organization of Bangladesh, “one statistics has revealed that during January-July 2008 period only, about 13,000 women became victims of eve teasing of different forms across the country. This figure counted only the reported cases. Many occurrences remain unreported as the majority of the victims of eve teasing prefer to ignore this out of fear or not to be 'disgraced' or part of a social 'gossip'. The situation has become so alarming that, in general, it can be argued that at present no girl has been spared from being a victim of eve teasing in one form or another.”

Sayeda Rukhsana Zaman Shanu, a leading female journalist and activist of Nilphamari District of Bangladesh, says, “I have been working against sexual harassment on women in Bangladesh for 25 years. But unfortunately the situation is still the same in the country. Eve teasing is spreaded in each part of the country.”

Jasmin Sultana Paru, Chief Executive of ELMA, an NGO working for women’s right in Chittagong, says, “Mostly school going young girls become victims of eve teasing but they do not complain against eve teasing out of the fear of being socially accused. In this society, people even accuse of the girls for being teased; people say that those girls might have done something indecent for which the boys might have teased them. Those girls are then called as girls with “bad character.”

In addition to the fear of being socially rebuked, “many girls bear the curse of eve teasing silently because of financial crisis”, according to Shanu. “In poor families, many girls who are illiterate work in garments and factories. Many of these poor girls often face sexual harassment from their male supervisors, but they don’t protest in fear of losing their job,” she says.

Shanu continues, “Not only the uneducated, even some middle class educated girls silently bear sexual harassment without any protest because of their financial crisis. It is a very common scenario. Suppose that the boss is male and his assistant is a young educated girl. The girl is doing very good work but she belongs to middle class society whose family depends on her earning. In this case, if the boss sexually harasses her she cannot fight. Because she thinks that if she protests she will lose her job and then her family will have no other way of earning. So, many girls accept as their destiny and never complain against it. This happens very commonly in our country.”

On the range of males who perpetuate this social crime, she says, “males of all classes and age take part in this heinous crime.” According to a statistics, “32% of the eve teasers are students, 35% are anti-socials while 33% are middle-aged men. So, the spectrums of eve teasers are very wide starting from teenagers to middle-aged men, either illiterate or educated.”

However, many social organizations and critiques in Bangladesh have claimed in Newspapers that Bangladesh do not have strong laws against eve teasing. According to a report published in The News Today, a daily e-newspaper, “There are legal provisions to thwart the offence, but those are either very weak or deficient of a clear-cut definition, which helps the perpetrators escape trial or get away with very little penalty and discourage the victimized women seeking justice.” Shanu corroborates, “Laws against sexual harassment in Bangladesh has big gaps for which it cannot be imposed properly.”

Police Officer Momin, Officer-in-Charge of Norshingdi Police station, talks about the feasibility of the laws against eve teasing in Bangladesh, “We have a law under Violence against Women Act against eve-teasing, but that law is hard to impose, because it is not clearly stated. For quick action, we have another Law, which is Law no 706 where mobile courts punish eve-teasers across the country. These mobile courts can imprison eve teasers for 6 months to 3 years. But the problem is that girls do not complain against eve teasing out of fear. So, even though there are laws, these laws cannot be imposed without legal complains from the victims.”

Police officer Momin continues, “As the girls do not protest at the moment out of fear, it often becomes difficult for us to take legal action quickly. If we cannot arrest the eve-teasers within a few days, the cases get drowned under many other “bigger crimes” and the young girls never get their justice.”

Momin discloses another reason for the laws not being imposed properly, “we do not have enough police force to stop this crime. We know the sites like school gates where eve teasing occurs mostly, and we have planned to impose more police forces in those places, but we are helpless. We do not have more police force who could stop this crime from being occurred so frequently.”

Eve teasing, thus, most of the time stays unpunished which often leads to suicide of many innocent young girls in Bangladesh. “At first they (young girls) cannot protest out of fear and if these incidents become commonly known, people start to talk very ill about those girls’ character. So, out of frustration and helplessness, many girls commit suicide. These kinds of cases are very common in Bangladesh”, says Paru, the NGO worker.

According to another report published by Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (ASK) on 13th December 2010, “Sexual harassment against girls and women in Bangladesh is turning deadly: 28 women have committed suicide this year and another seven attempted it to escape frequent sexual harassment.”

Apart from suicide, eve teasing has many underlying social impacts which fuels in maintaining the poor social status of women in Bangladesh. The report published by The Hunger Project listed some of those impacts as follows, “1) Curtailed education: Sexual harassment increases girls' drop-out rate from school. Parents concerned about their daughter's honor or from safety sometimes keep their daughters home and/or marry them off at an early age. 2) Early marriage: Girls who are teased or harassed are also pushed into marriage, before they are physically or mentally prepared. 3) Hindered development: Eve teasing contributes to maintaining the low status of women. It also hinders women in participating in the formal employment sector.”

Thus, eve teasing has become an increasing concern in Bangladesh which should be stopped immediately. Paru, the NGO worker, emphasizes on education and creating awareness to solve this problem. She says, “At first we have to make young boys, the main perpetuators of eve teasing, aware of the ill sides of eve teasing. We have to ignite the moral and religious values inside them so that they will think twice before teasing a girl. For doing that there should be educative classes against eve teasing in schools and religious institutions.” For the safety of the young girls Paru highlights, “There should be educative classes for young girls as well to make them aware that they should report to police whenever they face eve teasing.”

Paru hopes the day young girls will start reporting the cases of eve teasing, police will be able to punish the eve teasers. And the rate of eve teasing will then be reduced when exemplary punishment will be provided against eve teasing. But how long will it take to make the young girls strong enough to raise their voices against eve teasing? Shanu says, “I believe it will take a long time because I still hear many victims, sometimes out of fear of being dishonored or sometimes because of financial crisis, telling, “Madam, what else can we do? After facing it so many times, now we feel it (sexual harassment) is nothing.”


Umme Mahbuba's picture

Thanks for A Great Article

Hi Zahida,
Welcome to Bangladesh Cafe and thanks for raising up a very important issue. This is such an informative article and I am glad that you bring this up here. I agree that the law against eve teasing should be implemented immediately but what about the "Mobile Court" that Bangladesh government specially arranged for eve teasing? Do you have any more research or information about it? As I heard it is active and doing some actions regarding this issue. Please do share your opinion. I will look forward to hearing from you and see more posts in Bangladesh Cafe. Thank you again for sharing this amazing article.

Love and Hugs
Umme Mahbuba

Zahida Khan's picture

Thanks Moni for the kind comments

Thanks Moni for the kind comments. Regarding the mobile court, I remember talking about this issue when I was interviewing Inspector Momin. As he said, these mobile courts were really good and effective but currently these are not as active as before mainly because of lack of police force. I hope our government will pay more attention to activate these mobile courts as soon as possible.

usha kc's picture

Dear friend Thank you so

Dear friend

Thank you so much sharing your voice.

It’s my pleasure to welcome you. You are now a voice among thousands of voices. I am sure you have a powerful voice to make the world changed.
Warm Welcome in this amazing platform, expectantly waiting your active participation.
Follow the link for getting started guide.
Warm Hug !
From Nepal

Zahida Khan's picture

Dear Usha, Thank you so much

Dear Usha,

Thank you so much for the warm wishes. It made me feel so welcomed in the group. I am eagerly waiting to participate in the activities.

Thanks again for your kind wishes.

Warm regards from Bangladesh

udion's picture

Excellent Article

Excellent Article Zahida, Love reading it. We need more people like you to raise the bar of advocacy; journalism is a crucial part of any advocacy and often journalist forget that. Keep-up the good work.
Thank You.

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