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Sexual Violence in Bangladesh

Protection gaps in rape laws and barriers to accessing justice continue to lead to effective denial of justice for survivors of sexual violence in South Asia, including in Bangladesh.

Patterns of Sexual Violence in Bangladesh 

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

There were 6321 cases of rape reported in Bangladesh reported in 2019 and 5123 in 2018, with 1005 cases of rape against children reported in 2019. 

Patterns of Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls From Socially Excluded Communities

In Bangladesh between 2012 and 2019, at least 86 incidents of rape were reported against victims belonging to an ethnic minority. These communities would primarily include indigenous women who are mainly based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The Kapaeeng Foundation reported an increase in rape of indigenous women and girls from 12 in 2017 to 19 in 2018, whereby most of the victims were minor girls.

The Law Relating to Sexual Violence in Bangladesh

Definitions of Sexual Violence

  • The rape offense is narrowly applied to include peno-vaginal penetration only. Other forms of sexual penetration are covered under “unnatural offences” or sexual oppression/assault, which carry significantly lower penalties.
  • Bangladeshi law does not provide for any circumstances involving persons in positions of authority wherein consent is immaterial.
  • Bangladeshi law does not deal with the issue of incapacity to provide consent at all, in the case of adult victims.

Marital Rape

  • Bangladeshi law explicitly permits marital rape of adult women in all circumstances, with no exception even for when the parties are separated.
  • The law explicitly permits marital rape of children over the age of 13. There is a mismatched punishment clause which provides only for punishment of two years’ imprisonment in cases of marital rape of a child under 12 years of age, with no punishment designated for marital rape of children between the ages of 12 and 13.

Laws Requiring/Permitting Discriminatory or Overly Burdensome Evidence

The law on evidence specifically allows the introduction of evidence in rape cases which shows that “the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character”.

Special Provisions for the Protection of Socially Excluded Communities

Bangladesh does not have specific laws or provisions which address the added vulnerabilities of socially excluded communities in relation to crimes of rape/sexual assault.

Barriers to Accessing Justice Within the Criminal Justice System

In addition to a review of the rape laws, through interviews with survivors of sexual violence and stakeholders, our report found the implementation of rape laws remain poor and survivors, particularly those from communities marginalized based on caste, class, and ethnicity, face many obstacles in accessing justice, including:

  • corruption amongst law enforcement officials,
  • failure of the police to register cases of sexual violence,
  • the long delays in police investigation and trial of rape cases,
  • the extremely low conviction rate in rape cases (around 3%),
  • pressure from families, community, and shalish members to enter into extra-legal settlements and many others.

Delays in Investigation, Prosecution, and Adjudication

A 2020 study from Bangladesh analyzed the medical evidence in 140 rape cases filed in various police stations in Dhaka. It found that for 95% of the victims, the medical examination was done after a week or more than one month after the rape incident.

Delays in Rape Trials 

Bangladeshi law imposes a time limit of 180 days for conduct of the trial by special tribunals set up under the Prevention of Women and Child Repression Act, 2000. However, this time limit is almost never adhered to. 

Fast-Track/Special Courts for Rape Trials

In Bangladesh, the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Tribunals set up to deal with cases of violence against women and children have struggled with major backlogs and delays. A Supreme Court study found that over 38,000 cases of violence against women and children before these tribunals have been pending for over 5 years.

Continued Use of the “Two-Finger Test”

The Bangladesh High Court banned the use of the two-finger test in 2018. There is insufficient evidence on whether the two-finger test is still being used after the High Court ban and the government circular issued in 2019.

Conviction Rates in Rape cases

Unofficial estimates suggest that the conviction rate in Bangladesh between 2002-2016 was 3%. 

The information on this page is derived from Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, jointly published by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International in April 2021.