Government in Bangladesh have approved a proposal to change laws around sexual assault in the country. The amendment will make the death penalty the highest punishment for offenders found guilty of rape.
The proposal was brought before cabinet on Monday, October 12, and was centered on making capital punishment the maximum penalty for rape, instead of life imprisonment.
The proposal has been approved in principle at a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday, the country’s Law Minister Anisul Huq told journalists that the proposed law stipulates that “the maximum punishment is death penalty for the sex offenders.”
Following cabinet’s approval of the amendment, Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid will soon promulgate an ordinance announcing that punishment for rapists has changed from the existing life term to death.
This follows after a wave of protests across its capital Dhaka and many other cities over a series of brutal rapes and sexual assaults in the South Asian country. Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets on Saturday [October 10] demanding justice and stricter punishments for rapists.
The protests were largely spurred by an alarming video that emerged in October, showing a group of men stripping and attacking a woman in the southern district of Noakhali.
The woman in the video was allegedly raped by one of the accused at gunpoint in 2019, reports Al Jazeera. He then allegedly assaulted her on several occasions throughout the year and threatened to gang-rape her. The gang rape allegedly occurred on September 2.
The act was filmed, and used to blackmail the woman into giving the group money and agreeing to further sexual acts. She refused, and they released the video on social media.
Human rights group Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK) says that gang rapes accounted for more than a fifth of the nearly 1000 sexual assaults reported in the country between January and September this year. Further data from the ASK reveals that an estimated four women were raped every day in Bangladesh during April and August 2020.
Many called for the death penalty to be imposed for those guilty of rape, in the hopes that stricter penalties will deter offenders. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the conviction rate for rape in Bangladesh is below 1%, and that victims of sexual assault often face discrimination from police when they try to report the crime.