KATHMANDU, APRIL 21: A new report has revealed that women and girls are at heightened risk of sexual violence in South Asian countries with laws across the region are insufficient, inconsistent and not systematically enforced.
The report–Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors- of Equality Now–an international human rights organization- was unveiled on Wednesday.
It has revealed that the survivors and families of rape victims frequently face further victimization resulting in extremely low reporting rates in the region, long delays within the criminal justice system, and withdrawal of cases.
According to Equality Now, analysis carried out on country-specific laws and policies relating to sexual violence found that in all six countries South Asian countries examined there are gaps in the laws and failings in implementation, and governments are falling short of fulfilling their commitments and obligations outlined in international laws requiring the protection and promotion of women and girls’ human rights.
The team of researchers who had carried out in-depth discussions with focus groups, survivors, activists, and lawyers have identified numerous obstacles faced by sexual violence survivors, and for the small fraction who do manage to file a police complaint,
The study has found several impediments in access to justice.
According to the report, conviction rates for rape are extremely low across the region – in Bangladesh, it is just 3% – and when survivors do seek justice, they often face insurmountable hurdles within the criminal justice system.
Long delays in police investigations, medical examinations, prosecutions and trials are common in the region, reports of police officers refusing to file complaints or failing to investigate allegations are widespread while in four countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka – survivors and other stakeholders spoke about the challenge of justice system officials being susceptible to bribery and corruption.
In rape cases, overly burdensome or discriminatory evidence is required; for example, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka all permit the use of evidence regarding the past sexual history of a rape victim.
In India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, researchers have also pointed out the “two finger test” – an unscientific, intrusive and retraumatizing vaginal examination performed on the premise that it can determine a victim’s sexual experience – continues to be conducted in medical examinations of women and girls who have been raped.
“Rape survivors and their families frequently face extreme pressure to withdraw criminal complaints and stay silent, and this includes being subjected to social stigma, victim blaming, threats, bribery, and retaliation including loss of employment, eviction, and further violence,” the report has stated.
Similarly, the survivors are coerced into dropping legal cases and accepting extra-legal settlements or compromises with perpetrators – in Bangladesh, India and Nepal over 60% of the survivors interviewed reported facing pressure to settle or compromise their case; in some instances, survivors do not then receive the compensation promised under these extra-legal agreements.
Though other South Asian countries have criminalized marital rape Bangladesh, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka have not criminalized yet.
There is lack of quality support services for survivors, with minimal access to safe houses, counselling or other types of psychosocial care besides poor provision of victim and witness protection schemes put survivors and their families at risk of coercion and further harm.
Compared to other ethnic groups survivors of sexual violence from socially excluded communities face even greater barriers to accessing justice as a consequence of caste, tribal, ethnic or religious prejudice and persecution.
“Though India and Nepal have passed specific laws aimed at preventing and redressing discrimination against certain socially excluded communities, more work is needed across the region to address this intersectional discrimination,” the report further states.
The Equality Now has called on the South Asian governments to take urgent action to address sexual violence, improve access to justice for survivors, and end impunity for perpetrators.
It has also said the countries in South Asia need to take comprehensive action to holistically address sexual violence faced by women and girls.
The report has also urged the governments across the region to address existing protection gaps in the law; improve police responses to cases of sexual violence; ensure survivor-friendly medical examinations in rape cases; improve prosecution procedures and trials of sexual offences; design and fund holistic interventions to improve access to justice for survivors and review laws and policies to ensure that the specific needs of all marginalized communities are met. for more information go to