Women rights activists against death penalty

Women rights activists against death penalty

Plans by Bangladesh to institute the death penalty for crimes against women and children have come under attack from the people the bill aims to protect in this male-dominated society -- the women themselves.
"We are against the death penalty on any issue, although we are fighting to stop crimes against women and children," Shireen Haq, the head of Naripakkha, a leading women's rights organisation, told AFP.
"We need to change social attitudes towards women in a society where men are still trying to dominate them," she said.
Bangladesh Home Minister Abdul Matin Chowdhury introduced a bill Sunday in parliament calling for severe punishments, including the death penalty, for crimes against women and children.
The "Women and Children Repression (Special Provisions) Bill, 1995" calls for the death penalty for rape and killing women for dowries.
Chowdhury said violence against women and children had increased despite laws already in existence, such as the Women Repression Act, the Anti-Dowry Act and the Children's Act.
He also said in a statement that the increase of such crimes was primarily caused by the trafficking of women and children, as well as from the practice of having the bride's family provide a dowry to the groom's relations.
If the bill is adopted by the parliament, heavier sentences would be handed down, helped along by speedier trials, he said.
The trial of such offences would be held under special tribunals to be set up in district towns, Chowdhury said.
The bill also would give life imprisonment or up to 10 years in jail for those found guilty of trafficking in women with the objective of "prostitution, illegal sexual use and forced marriage".
Lawyer Sarah Hossain, a top official in the human rights organisation, Ain O Shalish Kendra, said that the "death penalty was an abhorrent way to curb anything and it goes against fundamental human rights. It really does not solve problems."
"What we need is a serious attitude to make existing laws effective," said Hossain, one of the main lawyers representing Taslima Nasreen, the exiled female writer who has been accused of blaspheming Islam.
Haq said she was "skeptical and worried about tribunals as well as speedy trials, as in the past capital punishment did not have much impact on such crimes."
Other groups, however, have voiced approval for the bill.
Moulana Azizul Haque, a senior leader of the Combined Action Council (CAC), said he welcomed the bill, especially in light of the large number of reports of the abuse of women and children across Bangladesh.
CAC, a conglomerate of 13 Moslem fundamentalist and extreme right-wing groups, has been campaigning heavily against Nasreen.
Nasreen's trial on charges of "hurting the religious sentiment" of Moslems has been postponed four times and is again scheduled to start Thursday, her lawyers said.
International human rights groups have accused Bangladesh of failing to prosecute violent crimes against woman, many involving rape or murder for dowries.
Failure to come up with promised dowries has also been cited as another major cause for violence against women.
Thousands of young women and children every year are believed to be smuggled across the border into India and on to Pakistan and the Middle East, where they are promised lucrative jobs.
However, many of the women are sold to brothels, while children are often sold as camel jockeys.

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