Sexual Violence In South Asia: Key Findings & Recommendations
Countries across South Asia report high rates of sexual violence against women and girls. This report focuses on the problems that women and girls face while accessing the criminal justice system, analyzing the gaps in the laws and policies on sexual violence, and assessing the role and response of the criminal justice system in addressing sexual violence against women and girls in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, India, and Sri Lanka.
Survivors of sexual violence are denied justice
The report, jointly authored by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International, found that rape laws across the six South Asian countries studied effectively deny justice to survivors of sexual violence due to protection gaps in the laws particularly:
- Limited definitions of sexual violence
- Failure to criminalize marital rape in all circumstances
- Discriminatory or overly burdensome evidence requirements; Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka all permit the introduction of evidence on the past sexual history of the rape victim.
In addition to the gaps in the law, the report uncovered severe barriers to accessing justice and implementation gaps within the criminal justice system, including:
- Long delays in the police investigation, medical examination, prosecution, and trials, with perpetrators often out on bail, are a major barrier to accessing justice.
- The two finger test, a traumatizing and unscientific vaginal examination, continues to be conducted as part of the medical examination of rape survivors in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka
- Across all 6 countries, pressure is put on the survivor or her family to enter into an extra-legal settlement or compromise with the perpetrator. In Bangladesh, India, and Nepal over 60% of the survivors interviewed reported facing pressure to settle/compromise the case.
- Conviction rates are low across the region, ranging from 3% in Bangladesh to 64% in Bhutan (though from an extremely low reporting base), resulting in impunity for the vast majority of perpetrators. Survivors and stakeholders across four countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) highlighted that the susceptibility of justice system officials to bribery and corruption was a severe challenge to accessing justice.
- Lack of quality support services for survivors like victim/witness protection schemes, safehouses/shelters, and psychosocial care compromises the safety of survivors, across all six countries.
Survivors of sexual violence from socially excluded communities face specific barriers to accessing justice based on their caste, tribal, ethnic, or religious identities in addition to gender discrimination. While 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. Governments across South Asia should review their laws and policies to ensure that the special needs of all marginalized communities are met, including, for example, women with disabilities.
Governments must take comprehensive action
The report calls for comprehensive action from governments to holistically address sexual violence and intersecting discrimination faced by women and girls across the region to live up to their commitments to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls. Specifically, the report calls on the governments of the six South Asian countries to:
- address 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 offenses
- design and fund holistic interventions to improve access to justice for survivors