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Rape, acid attacks on women rampant in Bangladesh

There is an alarming spurt in crimes against women in Bangladesh, particularly rape and acid attacks - even though in both cases the law is very tough with offenders.

Two schoolgirls, Sonia and Sathi, were savagely attacked with acid in two separate incidents in the capital recently. In both cases, the attackers were men from their neighbourhood who were angry because the girls had spurned their advances.

A perturbed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has ordered her home minister to look into the incidents and promised that the government would speed up the process of justice to deter offenders.

Because of pressure from the government, the Dhaka police which was treating the acid attack on Sonia like a routine case announced a reward of $750 for the arrest of the prime suspect Chand Mia.

The young man who had gone into hiding, was turned over to the police by his father, who insisted he was not influenced by the offer of the reward.

Chand Mia is alleged to have stolen into Sonia's house in old Dhaka city at night and thrown acid on the sleeping girl's face. Though she survived the attack, the young girl who has been admitted to the Dhaka Medical College hospital has been badly disfigured.

Hospital authorities have been told by Sheikh Hasina to ensure that the teenager, whose family is poor, receives the best treatment. A special medical board has been constituted to monitor her treatment, which will also include extensive surgical re-modelling.

The assaults, regrettably, are not stray incidents. Says Dr Samanta Lal Sen, plastic surgeon and consultant, "One or two girls with acid burn injuries are admitted to the Dhaka Medical College every week."

Last week, the teenager who attacked schoolgirl Sathi surrendered to the police because he realised they were closing in on him, the police said.

Quddus who used to harass Sathi, a student of class five, daily as she walked to and back from school, threw acid on her one night on a dark street and escaped.

This heinous crime has resurfaced in Bangladesh after 15 years. The problem was nationwide and rampant in the early 1980s till the government at the time passed harsh laws including the provision of capital punishment for acid throwers. At least half a dozen criminals charged with assaulting women were sent to the gallows.

Police records show that women belonging to poor families are mostly victims of rape, acid assaults, and tricked into prostitution - even as those responsible walk free.

The perpetrators are so powerful and influential that the victims cannot fight them either legally or socially. The story of the daughter of a landless farmer in Chaain village in Saver district is one example of social injustice.

The girl was raped last month by the son of the village chief and his two friends. In the 'Salish' or the traditional village court, the rapists were fined the equivalent of $375. But they paid the family only $75 and threatened to kill the peasant family if they did not leave the village in 24 hours.


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