Amid countrywide protests denouncing violence against women, the cabinet yesterday approved the draft of Women and Children Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill, 2020, incorporating the provision of capital punishment for rape.
President Abdul Hamid is all set to promulgate an ordinance in this regard today.
The approval came at the weekly cabinet meeting held virtually with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair. She joined the meeting from the Gono Bhaban, while her cabinet colleagues attended it from the Secretariat.
Later, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters that the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs proposed incorporating the provision of capital punishment in the Act, terming rape a heinous crime.
"The matter was discussed in detail in the cabinet meeting. Everyone agreed to incorporate capital punishment in the Act," he said.
Following the amendment, "Lifetime Rigorous Imprisonment" mentioned in Section 9(1) of the Act would be replaced by "Death or Lifetime Rigorous Punishment". The same changes will be applicable to Section 9(4) of the Act, he said.
Pointing to another amendment, to Section 11(C) of the Act, the cabinet secretary said in case of simple injury -- caused not during rape -- the matter could be compoundable.
The section that deals with dowry has provisions for three years in prison or one year of rigorous punishment, apart from fine, for causing "simple hurt" to victims.
Compoundable offences are those offences where the complainant enters into a compromise, and agrees to have the charges dropped against the accused.
The secretary also said that from now on, Children Act 2013, instead of Children Act, 1974, would be taken into cognisance while dealing with cases under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act.
"As parliament session is not currently underway, the amendment will come into effect through an ordinance," he said.
Asked whether there was any discussion in the meeting on changing the definition of rape, Anwarul replied in the negative.
He said the government did not bring the amendment only because of countrywide protests. "We've checked laws of other countries. The changes have been made taking the current situation and reality into account."
Replying to another query, he said directives had already been given on completing trials in rape cases within 180 days.
ORDIANCE TO BE PROMULGATED TODAY
Law Minister Anisul Huq yesterday said an ordinance on the amendment would be promulgated today so that the law came into force quickly.
"The cabinet today approved the proposal on amending the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Ain [Women and Children Repression Prevention Act] incorporating the provision of death penalty or life imprisonment for rape subject to its vetting. Since parliament session is not running at present, the government is preparing to issue an ordinance tomorrow [Tuesday] under the president's order," he said.
The minister made the comment at a press briefing at his residence in the capital's Gulshan yesterday afternoon.
He said the previous maximum punishment for rape was life imprisonment. Although there are some controversies over the death penalty across the country, the prime minister felt the need to impose the punishment under the current circumstances, Anisul said.
He also said the chief justice would be requested to issue a directive so that the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Daman Tribunals across the country could hear and dispose of old rape cases on a priority basis and also finish trial proceedings in new ones at a faster pace.
At the same time, the law ministry would issue necessary directives to special public prosecutors, asking them to take initiatives to finish trial proceedings quickly, he said.
Besides, the law ministry has introduced a digital way of sending text messages to witnesses in rape cases so that they can appear before court as per schedule.
Anisul hoped that the number of rape cases would drop once the amended act came into force.
'A step towards women empowerment'
Talking to reporters, State Minister for Women and Children's Affairs Fazilatun Nessa Indira thanked the cabinet for the approval, saying the decision would help women empowerment take a step forward.
"I believe the country will be free from rape following the act's amendment," she said.
"Our work is not done yet, we will pass it as a bill in the parliament session in November.
"Rapists don't belong to any political party … Everyone's joint efforts are essential to prevent rape incidents and violence against women," she added.
A GRIM PICTURE
At least 975 women were raped across the country in the last nine months and 161 rape incidents took place last month, according to rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra's (ASK's) October report.
Of them, 208 women were gang-raped, 43 murdered after rape and 12 victims of rape died by suicide afterwards, the report added. Three women and nine men were killed while protesting assault incidents.
On the other hand, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad said they recorded 129 rape incidents in September and 83 of the victims were minors.
Amid the growing number of rape incidents and after a video clip, showing a Noakhali woman being tortured in the open, went viral, people from all walks of life hit the streets, demanding an end to violence against women.
The protesters were joined by different socio-cultural and rights organisations.
On Saturday, Feminists Across Generations -- an inter-generational feminist alliance -- held a rally in the capital. At the programme, the platform declared a "national emergency", demanding prevention of all gender-based violence.
They said the death penalty was not a solution; they demanded an end to the "rape culture".
Meanwhile, Shireen Huq, founder member of Naripokkho, asked, "How many people can be dealt with by the death penalty? The problem is all around us, rapists don't come from another planet -- they are our brothers, our relatives. Children must be taught to respect women from an early stage, this is the only solution."