Monday, November 10, 2008

Women and Children as Victims of Crime

Bangladesh Reference

Dr. Abdul Hakim Sarker
Professor & Director, ISWR
University of Dhaka
Academic Councilor, ACPF

The present paper attempts to explain how women and children are usually fallen victims of crime of various forms. Explaining mainly Bangladesh context the victimization has been attempted to be seen in view of low and deprived status of women and children in Bangladesh. The poorer sections are exposed to a host of many social, economic, political and cultural factors unfavorable to human growth and development. Gender discrimination, ignorance and unawareness in respect to human rights, health care, safe motherhood, social and economic status for women are some distinguishable factors. For children the factors are status deprivation due to non-age, low-income, child labor, no care-free and happy time, no postponed and preparatory period of life, no ideal value guidance, easy access to illegitimate means, cheap abuse and exploitation etc. They are as such subjected to violence, sex abuse, white slavery, illicit-trafficking and so on. Along with socio-genic crimes at country level the transnational organized crimes are also intricately linked with such victimization. Illicit trafficking in women and children is mostly transnational, the preventive of which lies in local country level awareness and in international co-operation.
Women and Children are vulnerable segments of population almost in every part of the world. It is more so in Bangladesh because of social inequality, unfavorable economic condition, political climate, joblessness etc.
Women in Bangladesh are traditionally placed in a lower status, deprived of much of opportunities in education, employment and access to essential services. They are denied of human rights most often. A woman normally lives behind shadow of her father during childhood and of her husband after marriage. Household remains male dominated all through, women have no or little role in decision making. But they are largely engaged in non-earning domestic work, which has traditionally no recognition, no power no honor. Moreover observance of Purdah (seclusion) stands as bottlenecks to women’s freedom of movement. Cultural views including tautly explanation of religions ones fatwa and practices of law in case of women in general have resulted in significant disparities in their attaining recognized social status, human growth, health maintenance, educational achievement and income earning. Such a low status of women always relegates them to position of sub-ordination in the society that resulting in their powerlessness and helplessness. As a natural consequence the women of poorer sections are subjected to violence and exploitation in multiple forms, violence against women results in physical, sexual or psychological harms or sufferings, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Women are set on fire, thrown acid, battered and bruised, pushed off the roof or down the stairs, cut with sharp weapons, raped or even poisoned as a result of violent encounter with the counterpart.
However, in the midst of pervasive poverty conditions the women in Bangladesh suffer in general a host of many other social, political and cultural factors like gender discrimination, lack of education (ignorance), lack of awareness particularly in respect of rights, health, nutrition, safe-motherhood, lack of economic earning, child marriage, dowry, divorce, no social dignity, no decision making role, repression, sexual victimization, immoral trafficking and so on.
Similarly, children coming from poor economic background a status deprived section and are largely exposed to abuse and exploitation in many forms. They do not have carefree and happy time or any postponed period during childhood as they can prepare for life through positive human growth and development. Thus in the backdrop of practice norm oriented life they are in most of the cases found selling labor; and a child is (a) under-employed or not paid at all; (b) compelled to perform tasks that place his/her physical or mental health or development at risk; (c) made to work excessively long hours; (d) subjected to ill treatment, physical/mental and (e) denied fundamental rights.
Childhood exploitation through labor is a common scene rural and urban Bangladesh. Aside from this exploitation children are also sexually abused even the babies. Some studies on sexually abused children show apart from clear evidence, ”a shadow world of sexual violence, lies and deceit in which almost all participate”. Children aged 5 or 6 years have been reported sexually abused. The most vulnerable groups are however girls and boys between 10 and 14 years, the onset of adolescence. It may be mentioned here that Bangladeshi children mature relatively at an early age though parents recognize sexual growth but potential abusers do really find them physically attractive. The girls are not physically strong enough to defend them from physical aggression. Sexual abuse in case of girls brings out double troubles at a time, physical abuse with a trauma, and stigmatization by the society. Consequent upon this a victim girl is many a time considered not marriageable that is the worst punishment for her in Bangladeshi society. Contrary to this widespread incidence of child marriage in rural Bangladesh facilities to a great extent victimization of children particularly the girl child. What is more horrific is that abusers of such gruesome crimes are sometimes known to children; they are family members, family friends, neighbors, domestic servants, teachers sometimes even those who teach religion.
The scenario of juvenile misbehavior in urban Bangladesh including the Dhaka city is to a large extent attributable to certain unhealthy circumstances of children born in the street, their growth and development in the street or slums with no education, no good conduct and no platitudinal guidance by social control agencies. They are popularly called Tokai, and thus drifted to reprehensible activities and mature themselves in criminal career. They are mostly prone to theft, pilferage and usually engaged in asocial activities like rowdism, vandalism and gang fight. Political parties for carrying bombs cheaply abuse these children; rioting and picketing on the street particularly during hartal which is a recurrent phenomenon in present Bangladesh. The local ‘lords’ also often use them as aids to carry drugs, firearms, explosives. Thus they are at a faster rate getting acquainted with the underworld of terrorism and graduating themselves as mastans. They naturally have matters with police, have in some cases prison experience of living with career criminals. Children in some cases are found to be abused as tools of professional beggary. Uprooted girl children are in many cases trapped and abused as floating or clandestine prostitutes. Many of them suffer from venereal diseases, die uncared and cause the death of others. Contrary to this situation children of affluent families also in many cases suffer from frustrations and are found drug dependent, violent due to family disorganization, family incongeniality relating to bribery, drunkenness, gambling, neglect by parents and others. Access to free mass-media avenues including cyber technology has also caused substantial changes both positive and negative in the mind of children. But for many a deviance-genic change is being noticed. Thus it is observe that the children of Bangladesh are or have been in a state of multi focused and multi-dimensional problem –situations like abject poverty, birth handicap, high rate of mortality, malnutrition, deprived of education, physical, mental and social growth retarded, lack of adequate housing and health services, unaware of rights, lack of care-free, happy time and healthy recreational activities, gender and class discriminatory treatment, selling of labor early marriage, sex abuse, white slavery, association with bad company and involvement in crime and so on.
In view of the above vulnerable situations women and children often become the victim of immoral trafficking locally and transnationally. Maladjustments in different phases of social order, psycho-social and economic imbalances created in the process of fast urbanization; cultural conflicts and lags in present day social life have hastened a temporary disorganization paving ways for many illegal practices including trafficking in women and children. Transnational organized criminals smuggle women and children beyond the country’s boundaries to India, Pakistan even the U.A.E. by alluring them for better earning and living. Ultimately they are sold to brothels or compelled to act as sex worker in the dark world of commercialized vice. Children thus smuggled or abducted are, as reported, abused mostly as camel jockeying. It is also learnt that important limbs of their body are in many cases sold or used for medical purpose. According to a UNICEF and SAARC source it is understood that approximately 4500 women and children from Bangladesh have so far been smuggled to Pakistan alone.

The major legislations against oppression of women in Bangladesh may be named as the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980, The Cruelty to Women (Deterrent Punishment) Ordinance, 1983,The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, 1933, The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961 and The Family Court Ordinance, 1985. All these Acts or Ordinances have been promulgated to safeguard rights and interests of women, and many of them are in the context of social action and movement. Moreover Bangladesh has also ratified several international conventions including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW aims to assist women’s human right, and other groups including Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to asses the status of women particularly in respect of the Article 6 that addresses trafficking and exploitation.
Towards eliminating child prostitution and immoral trafficking the following laws are more or less in operation in the country: (a) The Penal Code of 1890; (b) The Suppression of Immoral Act, 1933; (c) The Metropolitan Police Act, 1974; (d) Oppression of Women and Children (Special Enactment) Act, 1995. However, in the CEDAW – Article six has been said, “ States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”. International Conventions, Bilateral Treaty, Multilateral Pact, Regional Agreement etc. will surely help curtail this universal concern and together with these ACPF under the UNAFEI umbrella can also go a long way.
In respect of dealing with child-victims of crime or those in conflict with law the Bangladesh Children Act, 1974, the Children Rules, 1976, The Bengal Vagrancy Act, 1943 have traditionally been practiced in the country. However, the umbrella of Juvenile Justice should extent to all children under 18 regardless of the law under which a child has been accused. The speedy trial and the best interest of the child and his/her humane treatment should be the primary concern. And towards this end the following attempts may be taken: taking account of the child’s age, no pretrial detention, ensuring check and balance in exercise of discretion through multi-agency co-operation, relying on “diversion” (informal arrangements for petty offences), parent/guardians are immediately informed; ensuring separation from adults under classification and providing proper assistance for resocialization, readjustment and rehabilitation in the society.

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