The High Court yesterday asked the government to show cause as to why laws that allow marital rape of women and girls aged above 13 should not be declared void and discriminatory.
In a rule nisi, it also directed the government to explain why those laws should not be declared violation of the fundamental rights of married women and girls to equality, non-discrimination, protection of law, protection of right to life and personal liberty, and why the respondents should not be directed to take necessary action to repeal these provisions.
HC bench of Justice Md Mojibur Rahman Miah and Justice Mohi Uddin Shamim came up with the rule nisi in response to a petition filed on Sunday by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Blast), Brac Human Rights and Legal Aid Services, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Naripokkho.
The respondents include the law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry, the women and children affairs ministry, and the home ministry.
All the petitioner-organisations provide support and services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence including rape.
"They challenged the marital rape exception clause in section 375 of the Penal Code 1860 as depriving married women and girls (aged above 13) the right to seek justice for rape by their husbands, and also related provisions, section 376 of the Code and the explanation to section 9(1) of the Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Domon Ain 2000 (Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act) to the extent that these sanction the exception," read a joint press release.
Senior Advocate ZI Khan and Barrister Sara Hossain with Barrister Jenefa Jabbar and Barrister Sharmin Akhter appeared for the petitioners. Deputy Attorney General Advocate Nawroz Md Rasel Chowdhury appeared for the respondents.
Jenefa Jabbar, director of BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) programme, mentioned that this is another milestone towards achieving equality for women in private life.
Shaheen Anam, executive director, Manusher Jonno Foundation, said, "Child marriage rate is very high in Bangladesh. Child marriage pushed lives of young girls at risk. We filed the writ centring the incident of Tangail. We are very pleased and hopeful that the necessary changes will be implemented soon."
Shireen P Huq, member of Naripokkho, said, "[We are] very pleased that the court has recognised the Exception Clause to Section 375 as fundamentally discriminatory, and has responded to the pain that countless women and young girls suffer as a result of forced sexual intercourse by their husbands.
"Criminalisation of marital rape will not necessarily result in countless women thronging courtrooms with complaints against their husbands. However, it will reaffirm for women their right to say 'no' to their husbands, and remind husbands of their obligation to respect that 'no'."
On October 25, a 14-year-old girl from Tangail died reportedly due to excessive genital bleeding at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, just over a month after being married off to a man twice her age who recently returned from the UAE.