The Supreme Court of Bangladesh recently ordered that only female magistrates may take down the statement of female victims of sexual harassment and rape, in a ground-breaking move to create a more woman orientated justice system
Rape and sexual harassment victims in Bangladesh are often, if not always, subjected to a number of hurdles in trying to obtain fair investigation and justice. Women and children facing these inhumane offences can seldom live in peace after the abhorrent incident takes places in their lives. They dwell in the darkness of misery. Self-blame, guilt, flashbacks, insomnia, emotional numbness are just a few things they face. Victims often try to erase the bad memory in order to avoid revisiting the detestable incident and to try to regain stability of their lives, and so they refrain from talking to others and usually feel extreme discomfort in talking about their experiences.
In a circular issued on 15th April 2019, the Supreme Court of explicitly emphasized on the growing need to have female magistrates to record statements of children and females subjected to rape and sexual offences. The requirement of recording statements from the victims about the incidents in subject is a legal one as per the Women and Children Repression Act 2000. It is imperative to know exactly what happened during the time the incident took place. “A true statement is crucial for the trial of rape cases” said Uzma Shukrana, senior Judicial Magistrate, Noakhali.
However, women and children facing sexual offences are usually very vulnerable and find it extremely difficult to describe what had happened to them, particularly to a male magistrate. “In my experience, I have seen that rape victims, especially female children are more relaxed with female magistrates and can share details of the time, place and manner of the offence without being self-conscious” added Magistrate Uzma Shukrana.
Many countries around the world including England and Wales developed and is still developing their legal structure regarding safeguards for sexual offences and rape witnesses. They now have multiple special measures for them including statements through live video links, screens to keep them covered while giving statements etc.
“The Supreme Court circular released on 15th April regarding sexual offences victims, particularly women and children, is without doubt ground-breaking”, says Ishrat Jahan, Senior Judicial Magistrate Khulna. As instructed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, victims from now onward will give statements to female magistrates. In case a female magistrate is unavailable in the district the victim will be sent to a competent male magistrate who has the expertise to deal with similar cases for their statement to be recorded. The circular also mentioned that on facing any problems in complying with the directives by the chief judicial or metropolitan magistrates they should bring it to the Supreme Court’s notice.
On asking Senior Judicial Magistrate Ishrat Jahan, she said It is undeniable that in the present time, there has been a huge change in our social perception, but most of the people of our country live in rural areas and most of the rape victims hail from there. After this decision the rape victim will find it easier to express the devastating occurrence in their life. Hopefully, there will be a significant change in this case. “I firmly believe that with this decision, rape victims and their family members can now openly reveal their pain” she added.
Praising the recent decision by the honourable High Court Division, Judicial Magistrate of Chuadanga, Fariha Noshyn Borny said it is an epoch-making one. “In my experience, once they make up their minds to disclose the incident, they have to face several types of hindrance during the entire legal procedure like interrogation by the police officers, medical examination by the doctors and giving deposition to the magistrates. On asking how the new instruction will help the current scenario Fariha said, “I think, the recent judgment will work as an instigator to creating a female friendly criminal justice system.”
Supreme Court’s Registrar General Md Zakir Hossain, Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain and the the Supreme Court Special Committee consisting of Justice Muhammad Imman Ali, a senior judge of the Appellate Division,Justice Zinat Ara, Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed, Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury, Justice Obaidul Hassan, Justice Md Rezaul Hasan and Justice Md Abu Zafor Siddique and not to mention Justice Muhammad Imman Ali who lead the committee formed in 2010 are all behind this forward-thinking and compassionate instructions that is breaking through the glass ceiling.