The High Court on Thursday asked the authorities to explain the legality of harassing rape victims in the name of conducting ‘two-finger tests’.
The controversial and demeaning two-finger test, the other name of virginity test, is carried out by physicians on the victims following their complaints.
The court also directed the health secretary to appoint an expert committee to formulate comprehensive guidelines in three months for expeditious medical examination, documentations and treatment of victims of rape and sexual violence.
The court also directed the authorities to ensure that the guidelines were strictly followed by the police, physicians and judges of Nari o Shishu Nirjaton Daman tribunals in dealing with rape victims and their lawsuits.
The committee members must have expertise in forensics, criminal justice, public health, and experience in providing support to victims of rape, the court said.
The health ministry has been directed to submit compliance report in three months.
A bench of Justice Mirza Hussain Haider and Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar issued the order after hearing a public interest litigation writ petition.
The petitioners challenged the legality of continuation of the highly controversial ‘two-finger tests’ by physicians on the victims of rape and sexual assault in the name of medico-legal examination.
The test is physically invasive and contradicts legal standards against victims of rape as it violates their right to privacy, they said.
As the two-finger test is based on subjective observation its usefulness has been questioned by medical authorities abroad.
Virginity test is highly controversial because of it is viewed as unethical and also because of its implications on for the girls and women subjected to this unreliable procedure.
The petitioners are aggrieved by impugned the practice of conducting so-call ‘two finger tests’ whereby invasive examinations conducted by physicians mostly without the consent of the victims cause further trauma to them, said their lawyer Sara Hossain.
The test violates the fundamental rights of the victims, she said.
The petitioners said that the government should provide better medical procedures to confirm rapes and sexual assaults.
The test is also degrading, unscientific and constitutes a second assault on the traumatized victims of rape, they said.
Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Ain O Salish Kendra, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, BRAC director Faustian Fereira, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Naripokkho, and two citizens Ruchira Tabassum Naved and Mobarak Hossain Khan preferred the writ petition challenging the legality of continuation of the controversial and degrading tests.
Appearing for the petitioners, Supreme Court lawyers Sara Hossain, Md Akmal Hossain and Jyotirmoy Barua made a strong plea to discontinue the abominable and humiliating tests on the rape victims forthwith.
Sara called it regrettable that the law requires the complainants of rape or sexual harassment victims to undergo the unethical tests.
The victims have to undergo the tests after lodging complaints with police stations or the women and children tribunals, she said.
A circular issued by the health ministry on September 16, says that a victim of rape or any other form of violence, who approaches, even without any police reference, a physician on duty at a government hospital recognized health centre run by any voluntary organization, shall be examined by such physician, and shall be entitled to obtain a copy of the medical certificate issued by the physician following such examination, said Sara.
But the authorities provided no guidelines detailing dos and don’ts for the on duty physicians while providing emergency medical aid or comprehensive health care for the victims of rape, said Sara.
Some vague guidelines laid down by the ministry provide no comprehensive protocol to ensure scientific examination, documentation and treatment of the rape victims, Sara said.
In addition, she argued, there are no specific training courses in palace to ensure that special care is taken to address the practical needs like examination and treatment of the rape victims.
No medical procedure should be carried out in a manner that constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and health should be of paramount consideration while dealing with gender-based violence, feel the petitoners.
The state is under an obligation to make more dignified services available to survivors of sexual violence, they said.
There can be no arbitrary or unlawful interference with the victim’s privacy, they said.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights 1966 and the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power 1985, rape survivors are entitled to legal recourse that does not re-traumatize them or violate their physical or mental integrity and dignity.
In 1979, the United Kingdom had to give up its policy to use virginity testing on women who said they were immigrating to marry their fiances who were already living in the country.
The policy ended after UK daily The Guardian reports exposed the unethical practice.
Source: New Age