Crime Victims Compensation Act: A law that never saw the light
In 2006, recognising the flaws in existing laws for compensating victims of violent crime, the law commission proposed the Crime Victims Compensation Act, requiring the creation of a district-specific fund for victims of specified offences, including rape, to ensure compensation as a guaranteed right.
The proposed fund was recommended to be overseen by a Victim Services Committee (VSC) formed at the District and Sessions Judge's office in each district, supervised by the law ministry.
The VSC would determine compensation approval, amount, recipients, and payment methods.
Despite the commission submitting the draft of the law to the home ministry in 2007, it remains unaddressed even today, leaving survivors of rape and violence feeling alienated from the state mechanism.
Although the existing laws allow survivors to receive compensation after a conviction, an overwhelming majority of perpetrators are not convicted due to the prolonged legal battle, which frustrates the survivors and leads them to compromise or discontinue the cases.
A Brac University study in 2015 also found that in three districts, the courts secured convictions in even less than one percent of cases involving repression against women and children.
Moreover, existing laws allow judges discretion to decide whether fines should be converted into compensation for survivors. However, a 2020 BLAST study revealed that, although fines were imposed in all rape cases, judges awarded compensation to survivors in less than seven percent of cases.
Experts argue that the fines outlined in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000, ranging from Tk 10,000 to Tk 1 lakh, falls short as compensation for rape, deeming it a mockery.
The 2020 BLAST study found the average amount of fine in rape cases was only Tk 28,000.
Taqbir Huda, author of the study, highlighted that "the failure to enact the draft act only underscores the government's reluctance to adopt meaningful reform since this is resource-intensive and has fiscal implications."
He also noted that resource-intensive reforms with fiscal implications, such as providing monetary relief to survivors, are neglected, contrasting with swift implementation of counterproductive reforms, such as the death penalty for rape.
Such reforms offer no relief to rape survivors but serve as a cost-free display of punitive sovereignty, posing as evidence of serious concern, he added.
In 2021, Law Minister Anisul Huq could not comment on the draft as it was still under examination by the legislative department. This time, despite repeated attempts, he could not be reached for comment.
Fowzul Azim, law commission's former chief research officer and a senior district judge, said, "A committed minister, if genuinely interested, could pass a law within two months. As a public representative, he should inquire into the delay in passing it."
He also criticised the legislative department for overlooking laws proposed by the law commission and shelving them.
Fowzul also underscored the absence of proactive steps from the home ministry in presenting the draft to the cabinet for a policy decision, revision, and cross-ministerial meetings to pass it.
Criticising the current compensation mechanism, Fowzul mentioned that in his 29-year career, he has not come across a case where the rape victim received compensation after the conviction, because most cases concluded in acquittal in the High Court.
He urged rights organisations to put pressure on the political parties to incorporate this issue into their election manifestos.
Even, in the sensational 2017 Rupa Khatun gang-rape and murder case, a Tangail court in 2018 ordered the authorities to seize the bus to compensate her family as she was the sole breadwinner. However, an appeal with the HC is pending, and the bus is currently in a damaged state at Modhupur Police Station.
Appellate Division lawyer Ishrat Hasan mentioned that a state fund would help the survivors fight their cases without being forced to make compromises due to poverty or prolonged legal battles, that the perpetrators take advantage of.
Despite a rule issued by the HC in 2021, following a petition, directing the government to explain within a week why it should not be obligated to establish a plan to ensure compensation for rape victims to uphold their constitutional right to life, the rule has not yet been finally heard.
Ishrat Hasan emphasised the HC's role as a guardian of the constitution in safeguarding the rape survivors' right to life and rehabilitation.