FIFTEEN-year-old child bride Babli Akter’s fate took a horrible turn when she was allegedly killed by her husband Rashedul and her in laws on January 27 this year as her family could not pay the Tk 3 lakh as dowry (Manabzamin, January 28, 2017). Dowry is nothing more than marital extortion. Dowry marriage mostly consists of greed, humiliation and violence. Many women every year in Bangladesh are being killed, abused and even commit suicide simply due to the pervasive illegal practice of dowry related violence. According to Odhikar’s statistics, between January 2001 and January 2017, about 3,090 women were allegedly killed, 2064 were abused and 220 committed suicide because of dowry. This statistics shows just the tip of the iceberg as a lot of dowry related violence is kept in confidence to retain the ‘honour’ of the family. If there were no giving or taking of dowry, there would not be any dowry related violence. Dowry is illegal in Bangladesh under the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980 and Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 (amended 2003). However, it still continues.
Ruma (not her real name), a school teacher by profession and a mother of two, living in Dhaka, married Mainul eight years ago. Soon after, Mainul started harassing her, calling her an ‘ugly’ woman – because of her dark complexion. Her mother-in-law and other members of her husband’s family used to verbally abuse her almost every day, saying that her skin is ‘moyla’ (dirty); and expressed their anger and frustration, and thought that Mainul had bad luck as he was not able to marry a ‘beautiful’ woman–meaning a fair-complexioned woman. Ruma tried very hard to be seen as beautiful in the eyes of her husband and in-laws and experimented to see how she could look fairer. She started buying brand name fairness creams, hoping to make her skin lighter as she started to believe that fair meant lovely, as the advertisements say. She regularly watched fairness cream advertisements on television, read about them on bill boards and newspapers and wanted to be as fair as the models in the advertisements. Unfortunately, nothing really worked or showed much of a result. Her husband and in laws demanded a huge amount of dowry repeatedly – apparently as a retaliation for her darker skin.
Another news of a teenage suicide came up recently. Umme Kulsum Ritu, a 15-year-old student of Class IX at the East Point Education School and College in Khilgaon, Dhaka committed suicide by taking pesticide on September 6. Her family and class mates alleged that Shimul Chandra, a 22-year-old man reported to be a miscreant, along with his friends had been stalking her on the way to school for a long time. The stalkers also started insulting her in front of her house, too.
Schools and colleges can form a coordinated committee including guardians, teachers, social workers, law enforcement agencies and so on to fight against stalkers. Social awareness programmes should be included in order to create moral values against stalking.
Every year many women in Bangladesh are killed and physically abused and many commit suicide because of the the vicious dowry practice and related violence. According to the rights organisation Odhikar, at least 2,800 women were killed, 1,833 were physically abused and 204 committed suicide because of dowry-related violence between 2001 and July 2014.
By analysing the overall dowry situation, reported statistics indicate that it is only the tip of the iceberg. Majority of the victims continue to tolerate abuse, if they are not killed, all through their married life and never report it. The main reasons behind tolerating or not reporting such abuse is that they are either financially incapable of going away and protecting themselves from their abusive husbands or they are not welcome by their poverty-stricken or stigmatised parental families.
Bangladesh has been ruled alternately by two women for more than two decades. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are women, and the posts have been held by women since the 1990s. The country's parliament has more than sixty female members and several of them are members of the cabinet. There are a considerable number of women serving in the civil service, judiciary, police, military and local government institutions today. The mere fact that there are a considerable number of woman employed in these institutions is used by the government to create a false impression that women are empowered in the country.
The fact that there are an increasing number of women participating in administrative, political, and financial sectors, in comparison to the same picture two decades ago, sometimes helps certain segments of the country to make such claims. The fundamental points relating to women's right to enjoy their fullest dignity as human beings and their right to protection from all forms of violence are often ignored, if not totally forgotten. Women face a spree of violence against them in Bangladesh, where the society struggles to consider the women as deserving equal dignity as what the men enjoy. The lives of women are not secure in the society.
According to Human Rights Watch, domestic violence in Bangladesh is "a daily reality for many women" (2011, 3; Human Rights Watch 2010, 4). The 2007 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey reported that 53 percent of the ever-married women surveyed had experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their husbands (NIPORT et al. Mar. 2009, 201). In 2010, the Bangladesh Police registered 16,210 cases of "[c]ruelty to women" (Bangladesh n.d.a), a term that, under the Prevention of Cruelty Against Women and Children Act, includes rape, trafficking, dowry-related violence, acid throwing, and other forms of violence, but that does not necessarily include domestic violence since "there is no separate provision to seek justice for domestic violence" (UN 24 Mar. 2010, 28, 89).
Media coverage of trafficking of women and children, migration and sex work is confused and inaccurate. Media wrongly uses the terms ‘sex work’ and ‘trafficking’ synonymously, perpetuating stereotypes and stigmatisation and contributing to the violation of women’s right to free movement and livelihood options, say these authors. If media reports were to be believed, there would be no young girls left in Nepal. Oftquoted figures such as 5,000-7,000 Nepali girls being trafficked across the border to India every year and 150,000-200,000 Nepali women and girls being trapped in brothels in various Indian cities, were first disseminated in 1986 and have remained unaltered over the next two decades. The report that first quoted these statistics was written by Dr I S Gilada of the Indian Health Association, Mumbai, and presented in a workshop in 1986. Subsequently, a version of this report was published as an article in the Times of India on January 2, 1989. The source of this figure remains a mystery to date. Unfortunately, such a lack of clarity is more the norm than the exception when it comes to reporting on trafficking in women and girls.