Compensation for rape victims and their family members remains elusive in the existing criminal justice system, with a clear mandate absent in the relevant law, say legal experts.
On the other hand, a law drawn up to address compensation for victims of violent crimes, including rape, has been in the draft stages for 14 years.
Legal experts said the current system has left rape victims and their families to fend for themselves during long, difficult trial proceedings, deprived of state support they desperately need.
Take the widely reported case of the five-year-old girl abducted and raped by the father of one of her friends while she was playing near her home in Dinajpur in October 2016.
The rapist left her unconscious, in critical condition with genital injuries, stab wounds, bite marks, and cigarette burns, according to media reports and the family.
More than four years on, trial proceedings are still ongoing. But the young victim and her family have been left to bear the burden of their personal circumstances alone while the state takes no responsibility — other than only assigning a prosecutor to represent them before the court.
According to her mother, the incident changed their lives drastically.
Though the child underwent yearlong treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s One-Stop Crisis Centre (OCC), even today, she is yet to talk or walk properly. She also lost bladder control, which is why the now nine-year-old can no longer attend school regularly.
“She needs to change her pants every five to 10 minutes. When she goes to school, I put some clean clothes inside her pants to absorb the urine, as our financial condition is not good enough to buy diapers every day,” her mother told The Daily Star.
“After another operation, her bladder problem might be solved. But she has been psychologically affected since then, as she has become very stubborn and always screams when she doesn’t get her own way. The doctors suggested allowing her to do what she wants to do, but we are observing that she has lost her interest in studies.”
She said her husband is a day labourer, who catches fish to provide the daily meal for the family. She added that it was not possible for them to bear the additional expenses their traumatised daughter desperately needs.
“Who will take the responsibility of my daughter?” the mother asked.
Barrister Md Abdul Halim, who has long been outspoken about reparations for rape victims, said the matter of compensation is as important as the prosecution of rape cases.
“The trial of rape is one of the criminal justice system mechanisms which can take years to prove. And in Bangladesh, only three percent of cases relating to violence against women and children result in a conviction,” he said.
“But as soon as a girl or woman has been raped brutally and/or hospitalised and her health is in critical condition, the state has a positive obligation to rehabilitate and compensate the victim so that the victim doesn’t feel alienated from the state mechanism.”
Under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000, the fine perpetrators are charged ranges from Tk 10,000 to Tk 1 lakh. The amount usually goes to the state and if the judges want, they can direct this amount to be given as compensation to rape victims and their families.
Since compensation has not yet been made mandatory, the courts rarely order the fined amount to be given as compensation to victims when a conviction is reached.
A 2020 study by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) looked at 44 reported rape cases filed under the law between 2000 and 2019, and found that the court ordered the amount of the fine to be converted into compensation for the victims in only three cases.
The report, titled “No Justice without Reparation: Why Rape Survivors Must Have a Right to Compensation”, however, found two of these three cases were later acquitted at the High Court.
BLAST did not independently verify whether the victim received the compensation in the remaining conviction, said author of the report, BLAST research specialist Taqbir Huda, on Thursday.
Even in cases where compensation is ordered, there is little indication that any victim or their family ultimately receive this money timely and without hassle.
In 2019, BLAST filed right to information (RTI) requests to 20 Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals, five of which responded.
Out of around 1,000 rape cases tried under these five tribunals in the past two years, only one case — tried at the Tangail tribunal — saw a directive to provide compensation to the victim’s family.
Based on analysis of news reports during that timeframe — from 2018 to 2019 — it can be inferred that this was the sensational Rupa Khatun gang-rape and murder case.
Rupa, 27, was gang-raped and killed on a moving bus on August 25, 2017, after which the perpetrators dumped her body at the Madhupur forest area in Tangail.
As this newspaper reported on February 13, 2018, the court verdict included directing the authorities to seize the bus and hand it over to her family.
However, since an appeal of the case has been pending at the High Court, the chances of Rupa’s family of getting the bus in good condition look increasingly unlikely.
“Even if we get justice, the bus will not be able to help us at all, because after three to four years, no one will buy it at even Tk 1 lakh,” Rupa’s brother Hafizul Islam Pramanik told The Daily Star.
“I think this order was another curse for my family. I have spent more than Tk 1 lakh in visiting the BRTA office in Agargaon and Keraniganj to complete the formalities,” Hafizul said.
EXISTING LEGAL MEASURES FALL SHORT
Recognising rape victims’ need for compensation, the Bangladesh Law Commission in 2007 prepared a draft law named the “Crime Victim Compensation Act 2007”.
The draft act said every district must have a committee to deal with compensation of victims of violent crimes, where they can apply for compensation from a state fund.
The draft was sent to the law and home ministries in 2007. However, 14 years down the line, it still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Contacted on January 21, Law Minister Anisul Huq said, “The draft is yet to come to me, as it is being examined by the officials at the legislative division.”
Asked why it is taking such a long time, he said he couldn’t comment on this before he gets the draft. He added, however, that he will look into the matter.
BLAST’s Taqbir Huda stressed enacting the draft Crime Victim Compensation Act 2007, saying the law will not only help rape survivors and their families but also help victims of other violent crimes.
“Besides, since the procedure of the act will be different from the criminal justice system, the survivors could receive a remedy during the trial,” added Taqbir, who leads the Rape Law Reform Now campaign.
Fowzul Azim, chief research officer of the Law Commission and senior district judge, said the amount of the fine under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 is very small and cannot be considered as compensation for an offence like rape.
“Besides, it is not likely that the survivors will receive the amount very smoothly through the courts. They need to collect the amount from the deputy commissioner’s office, and it is a very complex process which needs to be simplified.”
He added that the assessment of compensation must be guided by a standard principle.
“If the amount varies from court to court, it will create further discrimination, which is why the judges cannot [presently] order compensation for rape victims,” he said.
“We have to keep in mind that not all the perpetrators will have the ability to compensate the victims, and in such cases, the state must take the responsibility to compensate them.”
Noting the necessity of an interim compensation scheme similar to that ordered by the Indian Supreme Court, Barrister Halim also says there must be an expert committee — consisting of government officials, human rights activists, and legal experts dealing with rape cases — to create a scheme in this regard.
India made amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2009 to specifically recognise the victim’s right to compensation.
The provision now states that when a court imposes a sentence or a fine, it may award compensation to the victim from the whole, or part, of the fine recovered from the perpetrator.
It also stipulates every state government to set up a scheme to compensate the victim and their dependents who require rehabilitation due to the suffered loss or injury.
The scheme comes in handy in situations where the compensation awarded in the judgment is not sufficient, the case ends in acquittal, or when the accused cannot be traced, identified, or when no trial takes place, according to Indian media reports.
Source: Crippled law cares little