Hundreds of people took to the streets of Bangladesh on Saturday to demand justice after a series of rapes and sexual assaults surged in recent years, with gang rapes accounting for more than a fifth of the nearly 1,000 attacks reported between January and September.
The outcry over the rise in sexual crimes in the country has spurred the government to seek capital punishment for offenders.
Protesters gathered in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere, hundreds of students among them shouting “hang the rapists”. Many of the protesters carried placards bearing messages such as “No mercy to rapists” and “Please tell me, am I next?”
This week’s protests have prompted the government to consider introducing the death penalty for offenders, with the cabinet set to receive a proposal for urgent amendments on Monday.
“We are making the proposal on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinaâ’s orders,” Anisul Huq, the law minister, told Reuters. “We want to make sure those who are guilty get the highest punishment.”
Saturday’s demonstrations were sparked by a video of a group of men stripping and attacking a woman for almost half an hour in the southeastern district of Noakhali.
An investigation by an autonomous state body, the National Human Rights Commission, found the woman in the video had been raped repeatedly and terrorised with weapons by one of the group over the last year.
Also fuelling outcry was the gang rape of a woman in a hostel in the northern district of Sylhet that led to the arrests of several members of the student wing of the ruling party.
Human rights group Ain-o-Salish Kendra said gang rapes account for more than a fifth of the nearly 1,000 attacks reported between January and September of this year.
On Saturday, Mr. Huq, the law minister, vowed legal action against the criminals regardless of their political ties, saying he aimed for their punishment without “unnecessary” delays.
Many more rapes go unreported because women fear being stigmatised. Rights activists blame the increasing rapes on a lack of awareness, a culture of impunity and protection of suspects by influential individuals for political reasons.
Even when survivors file a complaint, prosecution is very rare and takes years to complete.
The United Nations and rights groups have called for urgent reform of the criminal justice system to ensure perpetrators are held responsible. (Source: Independent UK)