Extend all support to Nilphamari rape survivor
Poor, minor survivor of rape – there can't be a worse combination than this for someone grovelling through the corridors of justice in Bangladesh. Throw a powerful culprit into the mix, and you have a victim representing what is perhaps the most vulnerable group in our society. Such a case recently came to light when a 15-year-old girl from Nilphamari gained access to a High Court bench in session, and made the following appeal: "Sir, I have been raped. We are very poor. We have no money to move the case. I want justice from you."
She spoke directly to the sitting judges, who were astonished to hear this and quite touched by her story, an underage girl fighting alone and unaided, with nothing but the determination to get justice for the wrong done to her. She claimed to have been raped by a member of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). After she filed a case with a lower court in Nilphamari, the accused was acquitted. She wants to have the case moved to the High Court. We're happy to know that she has been promised legal representation. There is still a long way ahead, but we hope justice will be delivered fairly this time.
However, as encouraging as her grit is, the fact that a rape survivor had to go through such ordeal to get to this point is disquieting. This is but an example of the insurmountable challenges that the victims of rape and domestic violence often have to face while seeking justice. Many victims drop their case mid-trial, many never even filing a complaint. Threats of further harm by the accused, adverse societal attitude, lack of access to legal aid services, lack of state protection and compensation, systemic barriers as well as the biased, unhelpful attitude of relevant officials – there can be any number of reasons for this situation.
Added to the uncertainty is the fact that securing a conviction in a criminal court itself remains a daunting task. Conviction rates in cases handled by the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals are measly at best. This leads to criminals feeling emboldened and, in many cases, repeating their crimes. There is, clearly, a lot that needs to change. For victims like the Nilphamari rape survivor, this begins with increasing the reach of the National Legal Aid Services Organisation (NLASO) and proper execution of the Legal Aid Services Act, 2000. The government as well as the judiciary must ensure that all victims are properly represented, protected and compensated.