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‘Eve teasing’ is a form of sexual harassment

by Pascal Villeneuve

The United Nations in Bangladesh is working to raise awareness on violence against women, as part of the UN Secretary General’s globalUNiTE campaign. This is part of a series of articles that will appear in the media until December 10, focusing on the context, the policy interventions, and the actions needed in combating violence against women in Bangladesh.  

A NUMBER of slum children were invited to a roundtable titled ‘Children in City Life’, organised by Prothom Alo in collaboration with UNICEF in May 2012. During this discussion, girls living in the slums of Dhaka complained that they were often forced into early marriage by their parents as they were constantly harassed by stalkers, making them feel insecure. They also said that they could not study at home as these boys played loud music close to their homes, blew whistlesand made all sorts of indecent gestures whenever they saw the girls inside. This sometimes forced girls to discontinue education and in the worst cases, contemplate or even commit suicide.
Once confined only to stalking school girls, this problem has now become more pervasive. Mobile phones are also currently used as a popular form of harassment. A stalker starts by sending a flattering SMS to a girl, who naturally develops feelings for the sender. He then uses this to his advantage. They spend a few intimate moments together which are captured by hidden cameras and later circulated on the internet. Girls and boys also become closer by chatting on the internet. This too is sometimes a well laid out trap for girls.
A recent Study on Suicide Ideation and Attempt amongst Bangladeshi Adolescents states that stopping ‘eve teasing’ and sexual harassment can prevent young people from contemplating and attempting suicide.

Sexual harassment through ‘eve teasing’ on the rise
‘EVE teasing’ was not an acute problem in Bangladesh until the 1980s. As more girls and womenduring this time became educated and entered the labour force, ‘eve teasing’ as a harmful social practice became much more prevalent.
‘Eve teasing’ is rising both in number, recklessness and ferocity. Figures released by Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a human rights organisation, revealed that 62 per cent of school girls are victims of ‘eve teasing’.
Apart from increasing school drop-outs and forcing girls into early marriage, eve teasing also contributes to perpetuating the low status of women.

Current law, need for legal reforms and community action
THE government of Bangladesh has pursued a number of legal measures, both direct and indirect, to minimise violence against women and uphold their rights. Unfortunately, ‘eve teasing’ is still not considered a form of physical harassment, and thus is not legally regarded as a violent act. Consequently, the tragedy is that very few victims of eve teasing are being taken seriously by the police or the legal authority.
Fortunately, things are gradually changing. On November 11, 2011, mobile courts in Bangladesh were empowered to prosecute people accused of sexually harassing women or ‘eve teasing’. Anyone convicted of sexual harassment or stalking women will face a year in jail, a fine or both. The government now hopes that mobile courts will deal with cases quickly and that the punishments handed out will act as a deterrent to others. Mobile courts across the country will be trying these cases and district officials can form mobile courts whenever they think it is necessary.
Mobile courts can be seen as progress as they recognise ‘eve teasing’ as sexual harassment that should be punished. However, one needs to remain careful as in some cases sanctions can also be excessive. For example, an adolescent boy under the age of 16 years (who should benefit from special provisions under the Children Act) can also be sentenced to one year jail after summary trial for making a one-time indecent remark to a girl.
Therefore, we recommend further amendment of the Suppression of Violence against Women and Children 2000 Act (amended in 2003) in order to define ‘eve teasing’, recognising it as sexual harassment, categorising different forms of eve teasing and defining a scale of proper penalty in relation to the form of eve teasing, the profile of eve teaser, and repeat offenders. Special attention needs to be taken when the accused persons are under the age of 18 years, as the Children Act provides for separate procedures for them to be dealt with and the proposed new Children Act also encourages, where possible, informal procedures for them.
UNICEF also recommends galvanising adolescent and youth clubs across the country as well as active participation of both boys and girls, parents, community stakeholders, local officials and opinion makers — imams, teachers, political leaders and public officials to step up community vigilance and bring about positive social norms in respect to establishing the dignity and respect of girls and women in society in particular.
Pascal Villeneuve is Representative, UNICEF Bangladesh.

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