Why Is Gang Rape and Child Rape Skyrocketing in Bangladesh?

Indigenous women protesting during a rally condemning the recent gang-rape of an indigenous woman. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (3/6/2015)

Indigenous women protesting during a rally condemning the recent gang-rape of an indigenous woman. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (3/6/2015).

Recently, a number of rapes, especially several cases involving minors, have shocked Bangladesh. A 10-year-old indigenous (Garo) child was raped in the capital’s Bhatara area on August 4 by a 22-year-old man. She was on her way to school when the rapist, a neighbour, lured her into a house, saying he would marry her, and then raped her. Three days earlier, two children aged seven and nine were raped by their neighbours at two corners of the capital. Locals in one incident wanted to settle the matter out of the court, but the victim's father decided to go the police station. In Kaliganj of Jhenidah, two other children younger than nine were raped by people in the same village—one of the rapists was just 17—within five days of each other.

Twitter user Paula Aziza Ahmed echoed what many people seem to think, comparing the rape crime spree to the spread of an epidemic:

According to the children's rights group Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), there has been a spike in the number of child rape incidents in 2015: a total of 280 children were raped around the country in the first six months alone. (The number of total reported rapes stands at an astounding 896 cases.)

Blogger Kalponik Ami writes in Somewhereinblog about the growing number of child rapes:

তিন বছরের (সবনিম্ন বয়স) শিশু থেকে শুরু করে, চিকিৎসারত হিজাবি ডাক্তার, মায়ের বয়সী মহিলা থেকে শুরু করে ক্লাস ওয়ানের মেয়ে, কে ধর্ষিত হচ্ছে না এখন এই দেশে? ১ বছরের শিশু থেকে ৬০ বছরের বৃদ্ধা ধর্ষিত হলেও এরপর জাতি হবাক হবে না। [..]

আমরা এমন এক দেশে জন্ম নিয়েছি যে দেশের সর্বোচ্চ ক্ষমতাসীন আসনে নারীরা থাকার পরেও এখানে নারীদের কোন নিরাপত্তা নেই। এই নারীদের নিরাপত্তার দায় দিনশেষে নারীরা বাদে আর কেউ না।

There are women and girls of many ages—from three-year-olds to an adult mothers—who are not being raped in this country. Who's next? A 1-year-old girl or a 60-year-old grandma? [..]

We are born in a country where the top-most position of the country [the Prime Minister] is held by a woman, but there is less security for women. Sadly, only women theselves seem to bear any responsibility for their own security.

Rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) says at least 24 rape victims out of the 378 reported in 10 national newspapers from January to June this year were children. Twenty-nine of the total victims were killed after being raped.

Of the 378 rape victims, 24 were younger than six, 63 were between the ages of 7 and 12, and another 42 were between the ages of 13 and 18.

According to guest blogger Mr. Zero at Sachalayatan:

শিশু ধর্ষণের সংখ্যাই কেন দিন দিন বাড়ছে ? আমার ধারণা মতে,একজন জ্ঞান বুদ্ধি সম্পন্ন মেয়ে অত্যাচারীত হলে তার পক্ষে স্বাক্ষী দেয়ার একটা সুযোগ থাকে। সে অপরাধীকে চিনতে সক্ষম। তার প্রতিবাদের শক্তি এবং সাহস দুটোই থাকে। কিন্তু পক্ষান্তরে একটি শিশু বুঝতেই পারে না তার সাথে কি হচ্ছে। সে শুধু ব্যথা অনুভব করে। যে তাকে অত্যাচার করছে,যদি পরিচিত কেউ না হয় তাহলে পরবর্তিতে তাকে শিশুটি চিনবে না। শিশুটি হয়তো তার মাকে গিয়ে বলবে,কিন্তু মাও প্রমাণ বা মূল আসামীকে ধরতে পারবে না। আদালতে সেই শিশুটির স্বাক্ষী কতটুকু গ্রহণযোগ্যতা পাবে সেটাও প্রশ্নবিদ্ধ বিষয়। তাই অযথা ঝামেলা করে সমাজে লজ্জার মুখে পড়তে চাইবে না। ফলাফল ধর্ষক নিরাপদ।

Why is the rape of minors are increasing day by day? I think if a girl is matured enough, she is capable of reporting the abuse and identifying the attacker. She can even be brave enough to protest or cry during the attack. But a child will not be able to understand what is happening, if she is subjected to abuse. She will only feel pain and discomfort. If the attacker is not known to her, she will not be able to tell who it was. If she even tries to seek help, it would be hard for her parents to pinpoint the attacker without evidence. And whether the testimony of a child is accepted in the court is questionable. So the parents would want not to go that far and be ashamed more in the society. So the child molesters remain safe.

Recently, the number of gang-rape incidents has also risen sharply. Rights groups say the number of gang-rape victims will be no less than 15 in July. In June, the figure was 24. Back in January, this number was just nine, says the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

One of the impediments to get justice for these crimes is the delay in the investigations and trial. Usually it takes a decade to dispose of a case related to rape or domestic violence, due to the huge backlog of cases. For instance, a Chittagong court in October last year awarded the death penalty to a person on charges of killing a housewife after raping her in the district’s Banshkhali upazila—14 years years earlier.

On June 30, 2013, a Chittagong court sentenced five men to death for raping an abducted adolescent girl in Banshkhali Upazila in 1997.

On August 2, in a landmark case, an apex court commuted the death penalty of a rapist to life in prison. The convict, who was a juvenile when he raped and killed a child, has already served 14 years in prison.

Infographic via Dhaka Tribune (used with permission). Source Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum

Infographic via Dhaka Tribune (used with permission). Source Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum.

The Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association observes that laxity in applying the laws, the failure of the police to investigate properly, and delays in the trial process have contributed to the rising number of rapes. Salma Ali, executive director of the organisation, said that the absence of social and political responsibility, and a lack of transparency, contribute to the problem. Murder and torture of women at an in-law's house for a dowry, punishment by fatwas, and attacks by acid have been sadly common in the society. In many cases, women commit suicide after physical assaults and humiliation.

According to the latest, typically unreliable government statistics, at least 140 incidents of violence against women are taking place in the country every day, though only nine rape cases are registered daily.

Police have often been blamed for their failure to respond to sexual harassment and violence against women, and for settling rape cases without registering cases. After three police stations refused to take case by a rape victim, the Supreme Court ruled that the police must take such cases seriously.

The country's laws are also riddled with loopholes that allow rapists to escape punishment, if they can prove the victim to be “characterless.” Moreover, the rape victims are still examined through the discredited “two-finger method” for checking virginity—an unfortunate practice in a nation that claims to be progressive.

Dr. Kaberi Gayen asks if rape is unstoppable:


ধর্ষণ অপ্রতিরোধ্য নয়, অপ্রতিরোধ্য হলো অন্যায়ের বিরুদ্ধে মানুষের জাগরণ। এই জনপদে ধর্ষণ সব সময়েই ছিল, খবরে কম আসত। ধর্ষণের খবরগুলো প্রকাশিত হচ্ছে, এটি প্রথম প্রতিরোধ। ধর্ষিত নারী রুখে দাঁড়াচ্ছেন, এটি পরবর্তী প্রতিরোধ। নারী-পুরুষনির্বিশেষে সোচ্চার হচ্ছেন, এটিই চূড়ান্ত প্রতিরোধ। ভেঙে যাচ্ছে ধর্ষণের অপ্রতিরোধ্যতার মিথ।


Rape is not unstoppable. Invincible is the rise of people against injustice. Rape has always been prevalent in our societies, but wasn't previously reported as much. Now we are seeing more reports of rape. This is the first [stage of] resistance. The victim is standing on her feet and asking for justice. This is the second stage. You and me everybody are talking about it, condemning it, and this is the final resistance. The myth is being broken that rape is unstoppable.

Some observers say rape and sexual harassment would rise in parallel with women empowerment since this patriarchal society denies freedom of women. However its a good sign that people are now reporting such abuses and as these are discussed more and actions taken, chances are, the perpetrators will refrain from such violence in the future.


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