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Bangladesh madrasas told to appoint women mentors after murder

DHAKA: Bangladesh has ordered state-funded Islamic seminaries to appoint female mentors to prevent violence against women and children, an official said yesterday, after at least 16 people were charged with the horrific murder of a teenage student. Activists say the killing of Nusrat Jahan Rafi exposed a “culture of impunity” surrounding sex crimes, and that those who report harassment often suffer a backlash.

Rafi, 19, was doused in kerosene and set alight on the order of the head teacher at her seminary after she accused him of sexual harassment, and died in hospital on April 10 after suffering 80 percent burns. At least 16 people – including the head of her seminary – have been charged in connection with the killing and could face death penalty if convicted.

The grisly murder sparked outrage across the South Asian nation of 165 million people, highlighting an alarming rise of rape and sexual assault cases in the country. Saif Ullah, head of the Bangladesh Madrasa Education Board, which controls nearly 10,000 seminaries, said they have ordered each madrasa to appoint a “woman mentor” as part of measures to prevent violence against women and children.

The measures will “create awareness among students and teachers,” he said, adding the murder of Rafi prompted the authorities to issue the order. “All the female students will have to contact their head of institution through this female teacher,” he said, adding seminaries have been told to step up monitoring on sexual harassment, gender issues and reproductive health.

Last week Dhaka’s education authorities issued similar order to all of the country’s schools and colleges as soul searching continued following the murder of Nusrat. The government earlier ordered more than 27,000 schools and colleges to form committees to prevent sexual violence. Maleka Banu, the head the Mahila Parishad women’s rights group, said sexual violence had increased alarmingly across the country – including at schools and seminaries – but there were very few convictions.

“Only three percent of rape cases end in convictions,” she said. “In most cases no charges are pressed against the accused,” she added, blaming pressure from perpetrators, political interference and a lack of will by the police to investigate. According to the group, around 950 women reported rape in Bangladesh last year. The Manusher Jonno Foundation, a non-government group, says at least 39 children under 18 were in April alone.- AFP

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