The High Court issued a rule, on Tuesday, asking the government why laws allowing marital rape of women and girls aged above thirteen should not be declared null and void, being discriminatory, and in violation of the fundamental rights of married women and girls.
At the same time, the High Court (HC) court asked why the respondents should not be directed to take necessary action to repeal these provisions.
The respondents, including the Ministry of Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, and the Ministry of Home Affairs, have been directed to respond within four weeks.
A HC bench comprising Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and Justice Mohi Uddin Shamim, issued the rule.
The rule was issued against a writ petition filed by four organisations - Blast, Brac, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Naripokkho on 1 November, 2020.
All four petitioners provide support and services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence, including rape.
They challenged the marital rape exception clause in section 375 of the Penal Code 1860, which bars married women and girls (aged above thirteen) from seeking justice for rape by their husbands.
They also challenged the related provisions, Section 376 of the Code and the explanation to Section 9(1) of the Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Domon Ain 2000 (Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act) to the extent that both provisions sanction the exception.
Senior Advocate, ZI Khan and Barrister Sara Hossain, with Barrister Jenefa Jabbar and Barrister Sharmin Akhter appeared for the petitioners. Deputy Attorney General, Advocate Nawroz Md Rasel Chowdhury appeared for the respondents.
Barrister Jenefa Jabbar, director of Brac Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) mentioned that this is another milestone towards achieving equality for women in their personal lives.
Shaheen Anam, executive director, Manusher Jonno Foundation, stated "We are very pleased and hopeful that the necessary changes will be implemented soon."
According to the writ petition, on 25 October, 2020, a 14-year-old girl from Tangail was admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and reportedly died due to excessive genital bleeding, just over a month after her marriage to a 34-35 year old man, who had recently returned from the UAE.
According to medical reports, she had been bleeding from the first night of her marriage.
In the aftermath of the death of this child bride and taking into consideration the National Survey on Violence Against Women (2015) conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the Rape Law Reform Coalition (of 17 organizations) reiterated their 10-point demand for immediate reform of rape laws and challenged the continuing prevalence of laws sanctioning marital rape.
The survey found that 27.3% of ever-married women experienced sexual violence perpetrated by their husbands during their lifetime, including forced sexual intercourse.