Jinnat, 17, a teenage housewife, is a patient at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital's One-Stop Crisis Centre (OCC). She is being treated for the injuries caused by her husband's repeated physical and sexual torture. Married when she was only a class 9 student, she soon realized that her husband was more like a master than a friend. Unwillingly, she would have sex with her husband more than once a day to save her marriage. However, soon she realized she was unable to meet his growing demand for sex.
Nasima, now in her early 30s, was a housewife living quite happily with her husband and three children in Madartek in the capital Dhaka. For the last few months, though, her husband has been forcing her to have sex. When Nasima resisted, she was physically tortured. When she realized she couldn't take it anymore, she came to the OCC for advice.
Dr Bilkis Begum, an advisor of gynaecology at the OCC says, "Forced sex causes trauma and other psychological problems." The OCC was set up by the Dhaka Medical Centre to provide women victims of violence or abuse with comprehensive assistance. The Center provides medical attention, counseling and legal advice. Besides immediate post-trauma assistance, the Centre also attempts to rehabilitate women through vocational training, which empowers them both monetarily and psychologically.
Apart from Dhaka, the OCC also has an office in Rajshahi district, and the government plans to set up centers in Chittagong, Khulna and Sylhet districts as well.
A wider network of the OCC's service will provide some succor to the numerous Jinnats and Nasimas in Bangladesh. With marital rape not recognised as a crime in the country, statistics - or even estimates - on the extent of the crime are hard to come by. However, Sharmin Faruq, a lawyer with Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association, has this to say: "Most women in our country are completely unaware that forced sexual intercourse with one's wife amounts to rape, if not in law, certainly in fact and moral assessment. So we can say that a sizeable number of married women are being raped by their husbands."
According to Dr Hamida Akhter, professor of psychology at Dhaka University, a 2004 study on women in Lohagara, Narail district, found that 40.7 per cent of the women thought that husbands were entitled to sex whenever they wanted it.
Sharmin says, "The issue of having sex with wives against their will has been kept out of the definition of rape in the Women and Children Torture Act, 2004. Besides, according to the Section 376 of the penal code of 1860, having sex with wives over the age of 14 will not be regarded as rape." Even the Domestic Violence Bill drafted by the Law Commission of Bangladesh in 2006 does not criminalize marital rape or recognize it as 'domestic violence'.
Sharmin believes this lack of knowledge is what forces Bangladeshi women to comply with the demands of their husbands. "Even the enactment of a law on marital rape may not help because our society does not think that a husband forcing sexual intercourse on his wife is rape," she says.
In countries like the US and the UK, marital rape has been criminalized and women can file criminal cases against their husbands on this count. "Lack of awareness among both men and women can be largely blamed for the practice of forced sex in our country. The first step would be to launch an awareness generation campaign on forced sex and spousal rape," says Akhter.
Dr Muhammad Ruhul Amin, chairperson of Dhaka University's Islamic Studies Department, refers to the Quran to make a point against forced sex, "The Quran says Allah has sanctioned marriage for the peace of both husbands and wives. Islam never supports force and, in Islam, women are respected." The Quran, he says, enjoins a husband to take the consent of his wife before sexual intercourse.