Justice for Rape Victims: Their wait never seems to end
She was only five years old when she went missing.
On the night of October 18, 2016, she was picked up from her house in Jamirhat village of Dinajpur's Parbatipur upazila.
After searching all night, her family and neighbours found her the next day in an unconscious state, with stabs and cigarette burns on her body, in a turmeric field.
On October 20, the child's father file a case under the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain (Women and Children Repression Prevention Act), 2000, with Parbatipur Police Station for abduction and rape.
According to the case statement, principal accused Saiful Islam and his accomplices left her at the turmeric field after raping her overnight.
Five years on, the child, now 10, still suffers not only from urinary tract infection, but also the extreme psychological trauma that will likely stay with her for life. The case, however, still remains unsolved, prolonging the family's wait for justice.
As the trial proceedings of the case could not be concluded in over four years, the High Court interjected in the matter last year.
The trial proceedings of any case, filed under the Women and Children's Repression Prevention Act, are supposed to be finished within 180 days after the lower court concerned accepts the case.
On December 6 last year, the HC bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman directed Dinajpur's Women and Children's Repression Prevention Tribunal to quickly finish the proceedings and submit a compliance report to the court by March 31 this year.
Issuing a voluntary order, the HC asked local police to produce witnesses in the case to the tribunal on the dates scheduled for hearing. The bench also ordered the Dinajpur tribunal to indict the public prosecutor concerned if he does not properly play his role in finishing the trial.
The HC further ordered the officials concerned of the district to take necessary steps and ensure proper treatment of the child at government expense.
The bench issued the directives following an article published by rights organisation "Amrao Pari", on an online portal -- Women Chapter -- on November 22 last year, describing the miserable conditions of the child and her family.
The Dinajpur tribunal, however, is yet to deliver verdict on the case although it has finished hearing witness statements, Ataullah Nurul Kabir Nayan, panel lawyer of Amrao Pari, told The Daily Star on October 1.
"The Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Tribunal of Dinajpur has not finished the trial proceedings and has not delivered its verdict yet, which is a clear violation of the HC directive and the provision of the law," he argued.
The Covid-19 pandemic may be another cause for the tribunal's failure in finishing the trial proceedings of the case, he added.
JUSTICE DELAYED, INDEFINITELY
The above-mentioned case is one of tens of thousands that are filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000, which could not be disposed of within the stipulated period.
According to a Supreme Court study report of 2019, at least 31,539 cases filed under the act remained pending with the trial courts for more than five years.
After the courts had disposed of 54,618 cases from January 1 till December 31, 1,68,393 such cases were pending, the SC study report added.
No study reports were prepared for 2020 and 2021 as the regular functions of the courts were suspended for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Supreme Court Spokesman Md Saifur Rahman on different occasions.
The delays in finishing the trial proceedings occur when witnesses are not produced before the courts by the police and prosecutor on scheduled dates. It also happens due to repeated adjournments of hearings and overload of cases at the courts while there is a shortage of judges, court sources said.
They added that Covid-19 has posed a severe challenge to the quick disposal of almost all types of cases, including those filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention act.
Rights activists have pointed out on numerous occasions how the lengthy trial proceedings put financial and emotional distress on the victims and their family members, and how the delays act as deterrence for others from pursuing justice and provide impunity to perpetrators to get away with their crimes.
Ain O Salish Kendra, a leading rights organisation, highlighted that the incidents of violence against women had gone up in 2020 compared to previous years.
At least 1,627 women were raped or gangraped across the country, of whom 53 were killed after rape and 14 died by suicide. The number of rape victims was 1,413 in 2019 and 732 in 2018, ASK mentioned in its annual report.
WHY DELAY ADDRESSING DELAY?
Law Minister Anisul Huq earlier told this correspondent that the SC authorities have issued practice direction on the trial courts concerned for disposing of the cases filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act within 180 days.
He also said he has directed the prosecutors concerned to take necessary steps so that the trials of all cases are finished quickly.
Meanwhile, the SC administration has noticed that tribunal judges, prosecutors and police officers of the cases filed under the act are not abiding by the provision of explaining reasons for not completing trials within the stipulated time.
SC Registrar General Md Ali Akbar on December 27 last year issued the notification asking them to submit reports in 30 days on the trial delays to the authorities concerned of the SC and government.
The notification said there is a provision under section 20 of the act that says that trial proceedings must be completed within 180 days of the tribunal accepting cases for trial.
If the trials cannot be completed in 180 days, the tribunal judges, prosecutors or police officers will have to submit separate reports explaining the delay to the SC in 30 days under section 31(ka) of the act, but the provision is not being followed, the SC administration said in the notification.
Akbar also said the same notification had been issued on November 27, 2016.
On May 12, 2017, the HC bench led by Justice M Enayetur Rahim directed the SC administration to form a cell to monitor whether trials of the cases filed under the act are completed within 180 days.
The monitoring cell, headed by the registrar general of the SC, would report to the SC and the government for taking appropriate action against judges, public prosecutors and investigation officers who fail to assign causes for not disposing of the cases in time, said the HC directive.
Four years down the line, there has been little to no progress on the activities of the monitoring cell.
On March 3 this year, Akbar placed a report to the HC saying that a three-member cell, headed by him, has been formed to monitor whether the trials of the cases filed under the act are being completed within 180 days.
Asked, Akbar told The Daily Star on October 6 that his office has received some explanations from judges concerned for their failure in completing trials in time. But he could not provide further details.