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Ensuring safeguards against sexual harassment

Md. Mahfujar Rahman |
Update: 2015-05-27 11:13:00
Ensuring safeguards against sexual harassment

DHAKA: Human beings of the civilized world want to live with happiness and for that reason they have certain rights known as human rights, certain inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being, which are necessary for their all round development including personality.

Universal human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law, in the forms of treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law.

International human rights law lays down obligations of governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

It’s an unfortunate truth that women, all over the world, are being sexually harassed and assaulted which is an outright violation of human rights.

In Bangladesh also, women are facing multiple problems regardless of the fact that the Constitution of Bangladesh (the Constitution) ensures the implementation of the rule of law, fundamental human rights, freedom of thoughts, association, movement, equality as well as justice for all citizens.

Article 28 of the Constitution prohibits all kinds of discrimination on the ground of sex while article 29 guarantees equality of opportunity of women in employment in the public sector.

On the other hand, article 31 of the Constitution guarantees equal protection of law and to be treated only in accordance with law.

Exercising the jurisdiction as mandated under article 111 of the Constitution, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, in the case of BNWLA Versus Bangladesh reported in 14 BLC (HCD) (2009) 694, has provided some guidelines “to be followed and observed at all workplaces and education institutions till adequate and effective legislation is made in this field” in order to curb sexual harassment.

In the year 2011, these guidelines are appreciated as well as adopted with modification by another judgment of the High Court Division in the Writ Petition No. 8769 of 2010 to suit the need and scenario of evolving frequency of harassment all over the country.

Apart from these, there are other laws in Bangladesh which provide a good number of solutions to tackle this critical problem.

Under section 509 of the Penal Code-1860, an accused can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both for committing offences like intending to insult the modesty of any woman, uttering any word, making any sound or gesture.

This section 509 of the Penal Code is introduced in the Mobile Court Act, 2009 to empower the Executive Magistrates to impose punishments on the perpetrators on the spot to face of quick rise of the incidents of so-called sexual harassment.

While section 9 (Ka) of the Nari-O-Shisho Nirjaton Daman Ain, 2000 provides for rigorous imprisonment for a period from five to ten years for inducing a woman to commit suicide, section 10 of the same Act provides for rigorous imprisonment for a period between three and ten years for touching the body of a woman for the purpose of gratification of sexual desire and so on.

Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR) has also recognized the equal rights of men and women.

The same right has been mentioned in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was acceded in Bangladesh in 1984.

It states that the complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields. Therefore, we need to raise our consciousness among the general people.

To build the awareness, we need to educate ourselves to become able to identify different types of ‘sexual harassment’. In this respect, the expression ‘sexual harassment’ as defined in both the Writ Petition No. 8769 of 2010 and the judgment reported in 14 BLC (HCD) (2009) 694 can be the guidelines for us.

We appreciate the recommendation of Women Repression Prevention Committee of Jagannath University, regarding recent incident on its campus, which has followed the directions given in the aforementioned judgments and, afterward, the permanent expulsion of Aroz Miah from the university in accordance with section 11(10) of Jagannath University Act, 2005.

Government should take strict action against the perpetrators of sexual harassments against women and girls. At the same time the women and girls of society should raise their voice against the so called Aroz-type social menace.

Religious values can contribute a lot in behaving with each other. Finally, we should come forward to eliminate sexual harassment from society.

Md. Mahfujar Rahman is a research associate, Chancery Research Consultant Trust

BDST: 2027 HRS, MAY 27, 2015

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