People join a protest in front of the Bangladeshi parliament demanding justice for the alleged gang rape of a woman in Noakhali, Bangladesh, in Dhaka, October 10, 2020. MOHAMMAD PONIR HOSSAIN/REUTERS

Bangladesh to allow the death penalty for convicted rapists, following weeks of protests in the country.

On Monday, Bangladesh’s Cabinet on approved an amendment to change the maximum punishment for convicted rapists from life imprisonment to death, according to state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). Led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the cabinet met online to approve the change.

The provision will go into effect after it is signed by Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid. He was expected to sign the “Women and Children Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill” into law on Tuesday, according to Law and Justice Minister Anisul Huq. 

“Surely (the law) will be a deterrent to such notorious crimes while we simultaneously will make all-out efforts to expedite the trial process of rape cases in the relevant courts,” Law Minister Anisul Huq stated, according to BSS.

This follows weeks’ worth of national outrage over sexual violence against women in the country. Recently, a 30-minute video depicting a group of men attacking and sexually assaulting a woman went viral. This was one in a number of high profile rape cases recently reported within Bangladesh. Consequently, multiple protests were staged across the country calling for justice for victims. Recently, police arrested eight suspects related to the case.

“Bangladeshi women have had enough of the government’s abject failure to address repeated rapes and sexual assaults,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement last week. “The Bangladesh government needs to finally make good on its empty promises and heed activists’ calls to take meaningful action to combat sexual violence and to support survivors.”

Around 975 women and girls were raped in the first nine months of 2020 in Bangladesh, according to Ain o Salish Kendra, a Bangladeshi human rights and legal aid organization based in Dhaka.

The country’s existing laws mandate a life prison sentence for rape convictions. With the passing of this amendment, courts can now choose between death sentence and death. As this is only an alteration of existing law, Bangladesh’s parliament was not required to oversee the change in the legislation.

According to Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh has an extremely low conviction rate for rape, and victims face myriad difficulties in reporting sexual crimes and pursuing legal cases against alleged attackers.

Consequently, many activists have expressed disappointment over the law, decrying it as an impractical step that does not address rape culture, nor stop the perpetuation of violence against women.

The author is a former member of staff. She writes features on current affairs and is interested in issues of social justice, online behaviors, and popular culture. She tweets at @zainabmsheikh and can be reached at zainabmubashir@thecorrespondent.pk.

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