Under the Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children (Special Provisions) Act 1995 which is now an obsolete law, the special tribunal was established across the country. When the Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Act 2000 came into effect, the name of the tribunal changed to the ‘Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Tribunal’. The remaining pending cases of the previous special tribunal were transferred to the new tribunal established under the 2000 Act. The new law was meant to speedily dispose of the cases relating to oppression against women and children. According to the 2000 Act, at least one tribunal is to be established in each district.
We have stringent laws and relevant judicial forum, yet the rate of commission of crimes against women and children is largely prevalent. And it is often argued that many, if not all, cases filed under the 2000 Act are of frivolous nature. Resultantly, conviction rate under the applicable law is significantly low.
In this context, the national Bengali daily Prothom Alo in 2016 took an initiative to launch a comprehensive research into the matter to understand the complex situation of our justice system relating to the trial of cases under the Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Tribunal Act 2000. For this purpose, the research team collected and examined a total of 7864 cases of last 15 years (2002-2016) filed under the 2000 Act from Dhaka district (including Dhaka Metropolitan area) as sample. The cases collected by the research team concerned six specific offences under the 2000 Act. These are the offence of rape (section 9), causing death in consequence of rape (section 9), gang-rape (including murder and rape) (section 9), dishonouring and instigating women to commit suicide thereafter (section 9A), sexual oppression (section 10), and causing death (or attempting to cause death) for dowry.
During the time of research, there were five special tribunals in Dhaka district for trying the cases under the 2000 Act. Through two phases, the researchers took primary information relating to the above-mentioned six offences from the annual judicial registration book of the tribunal. Primary information related, among others, to the year of filing cases in the police station and of presenting the cases in the tribunal, the relevant provision of the law referred to the cases, the then status of the cases, date and year if the cases were finally decided, and description of conviction (if any).
At the conclusion of the research, Prothoma Prokashon, in 2018, published the significant findings of the research with associated analysis titled as Saza Matro Tin Sotangsho: Dhakar Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Tribunal [Trans. Only 3% Conviction: Dhaka’s Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Tribunal].
One of the major findings of the research suggests that the rate of filing of cases under the 2000 Act has annually increased while the rate of conviction in those cases remained significantly low. From 2002 till 2016, the number of disposed cases was 4277 (54%) and of pending cases was 3587 (46%). Throughout all these years, conviction was awarded only in 109 cases which constitute only 3% of the total number of cases. On an average, around four years were taken to finally dispose of the cases.
Statistically, the number of rape related cases was 5502 comprising 70% of the total number of cases filed. The allegation of provocation to suicide was made in at least 9 cases. The number of sexual violence/harassment related cases was 1885 (24%) and of murder or attempt to murder for dowry related cases was 354 (4.5%). In general, there were 100 cases on the allegation of provocation to commit suicide (1%). A total of 17 cases was found where reference to legal provision was incorrectly or mistakenly made either by the investigating officer or the public prosecutor.
Another significant finding of the research shows that many of the cases remain pending in the tribunal for years after years. The researchers found that around 22% cases relating to murder or attempt to murder for dowry, 21% cases relating to rape and rape related murder, 17% cases relating to gangrape and murder, 16% cases relating to provocation to commit suicide, 7% cases relating to rape and 8% cases relating to sexual harassment were found pending in the tribunal on an average for 11-15 years.
The researchers extensively looked into 65 cases relating to rape (18 cases), murder after rape (8 case), gang-rape and murder (26 cases), sexual oppression (3 cases), provocation to commit suicide (5 cases) and murder for dowry (5 cases). Among all these cases, the alleged perpetrators were convicted in 5 cases, acquitted in 34 cases and excused from the final charge sheet in 11 cases. 15 cases were found pending till the time of research.
For years, the low conviction rate and the increasing number of false cases have undoubtedly been a matter of concern for the stakeholders associated with the prevention of crimes against women. The researchers proposed to strengthen the investigating mechanism, produce relevant, appropriate and timely evidences or witnesses, coordinate with the function of the police authority and public prosecutor, and enhance the capacity of the tribunal judges.