Tuesday, October 3, 2023

No move yet to implement HC directives on stalking

The police have taken no initiative to comply with an order of the High Court, given five months ago, that requires every thana to form a separate team of officers to deal with complaints of sexual harassment.
The government has also failed to amend the Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 which the court ordered it to do ‘on an urgent basis’, incorporating a new definition of sexual harassment,
and also to take ‘immediate steps’ to enact laws for protection of the victims and witnesses of sexual harassment.
After hearing a public interest writ petition filed by the Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association, claiming that the government was failing to take sufficient action against those guilty of stalking and sexual harassment, the High Court bench of Justice M Imman Ali and Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif issued ten directives to the government and the police to check stalking.
‘These directives, issued by the High Court, are laws of the country, and in view of Article 111 of the Constitution they are binding on all concerned and are to be implemented everywhere until an effective legal measure is enacted by our legislature,’ the court observed.
One of the key directives was to form in every thana a team of officers whose sole purpose would be to prevent sexual harassment in both private and public places such as educational institutions, workplaces, vehicles, markets, bus stops, railway stations and parks.
The police teams were told by the court to report to the district law and order committee through their superintendents of police or police commissioners or though officers designated for the purpose.
The court also said that the district committees should, from time to time and at least once a month, organize a ‘Meet the People’ session at which women and child rights activists would be able to hear of the incidents of sexual harassment as well as the steps taken to punish the perpetrators and prevent recurrence of such incidents.
Inspector general of police Hasan Mahmud Khandker admitted to New Age that no thana had set up a separate cell or team to deal with complaints of stalking, but said, ‘We give this issue particular importance as it is part of the court’s directives.’
In another of the court’s directives, the government was required to amend the Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 by ‘defining the mischief of “sexual harassment” in the light of the definition given by us…and providing appropriate punishment for the crime, keeping in mind that the main aim of the law or any other measures should be preventive and not retributive.’
The court also said that the government should ‘take immediate steps’ to allow the statements, recorded on audio/video apparatus, of victims or witnesses of sexual harassment to be used as evidence in court.
State Minister for Women and Children Affairs, Shirin Sharmin Choudhury, told New Age that it was no longer necessary to amend the above law as harassment can be checked by the mobile courts’ drives.
Because of the widely publicized rise of incidents of sexual harassment, which had forced many victims to commit suicide, the government in 2010 amended the Mobile Court Act 2009 to empower the executive magistrates to take action against persons guilty of sexual harassment.
Magistrates may fine and/or sentence perpetrators to prison terms which may extend to one year on the spot, she added.
She also said that the law ministry is thinking of enacting a law for the protection of the victims and witnesses.
Another directive also required the government to make it mandatory for internet users in cyber cafes to have a photo identity card and for the café owners to maintain records of the identity of the users, as well as which computer the user worked on and for how long.
However, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission’s director general (legal and licensing Division), AKM Shahiduzzaman, said, ‘We have no control over the cyber cafés as they don’t need to obtain BTRC’s approval.’
He said that the internet providers need to get licences but the cyber cafés do not.
Supreme Court lawyer Fahima Nasrin, who lodged the original writ petition, said, ‘It is very unfortunate for us that the government is yet to take any measure to implement the court’s verdicts. Immediate implementation of the verdicts is essential to protect women from sexual harassment which is still taking place.’
She also criticized the government for using mobile courts to take action against perpetrators of sexual harassment.
‘The mobile court is simply being used as a tool of harassment,’ she alleged.
The court also asked the government, law enforcers, media and non-governmental organisations to stop using the phrase ‘eve teasing’ when describing stalking or sexual harassment, observing that the use of the phrase implies that the offence is not serious.


Courtesy of New Age

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