Bangladesh’s High Court has questioned a ban on marital rape prosecutions after women’s rights groups argued it was discriminatory to stop alleged rapists from being charged if they are married to their victims, activists said on Tuesday.
The court’s decision to seek an explanation from the government on the issue comes amid growing concern about sexual violence in Bangladesh, where the penal code and domestic abuse laws do not contemplate marital rape as a crime.
Campaigners, who say current legislation discriminates against married women and girls, welcomed the court’s ruling.
“We think this is very much a step in the right direction,” said Sara Hossain, from the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, one of several rights groups that filed a writ petition with the High Court.
“We told the court that Pakistan, Nepal and India have changed their laws. The law for us also has to be in accordance with equality,” she said, adding that the group would seek a final ruling from the court after the government responds.
The Deputy Attorney General representing the government at the hearing declined to comment on the court’s request, but confirmed that it had been issued on Tuesday.
Last month, the government changed the law to expand the use of the death penalty in rape cases following protests triggered by an online video showing a group of men sexually assaulting a woman.
Women’s rights advocates said the tougher penalties would not be enough to tackle increasing rape cases, demanding far-reaching reform of the legal system and more education to bring about real change.
Nearly 1,000 sexual crimes were reported between January and September, including more than 200 gang rapes, according to human rights group Ain-o-Salish Kendra.
A national survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2015 found that at least 27% of the 20,000 married women surveyed had experienced sexual violence by their husbands.
Another of the women’s groups that filed the petition with the High Court said Tuesday’s decision was a “positive signal”.
“There’s still a long way to go, but we’re very pleased with the court’s rule,” said Shireen Huq, founder of the Naripokkho group. “It tells me that the court is cognizant of the pain that women are going through.”