According to a report in this newspaper, a local Awami League leader—chairman of No-1 Mahalchhari Union Parishad—in Khagrachhari has “settled” the rape of an underage Marma girl by fining the rapist a meagre Tk 10,000. The victim’s family are not even being able to file a case, as a result. How can the chairman even consider pardoning someone who raped an underage girl for Tk 10,000? How is that justice?
Unfortunately, hundreds of such cases in our country get “mitigated” out of court due to the victims or their families not having the means to pursue long-standing legal cases, or because of the power imbalance between the victim and the perpetrator. Social stigma and lack of awareness about the legal assistance that is available are other reasons that prevent victims and their families from pursuing legal action. Whereas the authorities are supposed to help fight these problems, here we see a case where a local leader is actually downplaying the seriousness of the offence and allowing the perpetrator to walk away scot-free.
Earlier in June, this newspaper reported how a village leader took Tk 90,000 from another rapist, and forced the victim’s mother to sign an affidavit saying that she was content with the arbitration even though the victim received nothing—not a single penny. Clearly, these examples show that leaving such cases to “local leaders” to arbitrate is not working.
Out-of-court settlement of civil cases is one thing, however, criminal cases should never be settled out-of-court, as many legal experts argue. Still, according to a 2017 report, less than 2 percent of rape cases filed in the country in the previous five years had ended in conviction. And such figures surely give victims very little hope of getting justice should they decide to pursue legal channels. What then are the victims to do, when neither arbitration nor the legal system are willing to deliver the minimum justice that they are owed?
We would like to draw the attention of the authorities to this case, and urge them to punish the perpetrator and also take action against the local leader who saw it fit to let him off the hook for a paltry sum of Tk 10,000—despite committing a most egregious offence of raping a minor girl. Moreover, the authorities need to look at the bigger picture too, and take measures that can change this overall grim scenario.