South Asia

Bangladesh empowers mobile courts to stop 'Eve teasing'

"Eve teasing" protest in Dhaka
Image caption Students protested at recent suicides and killings involving women who had been harassed

Mobile courts in Bangladesh have been empowered to prosecute people accused of sexually harassing women, or "Eve teasing", officials have said.

Anyone convicted of sexual harassment or stalking of women will face a year in jail or a fine of about $70 or both.

The government's move follows increasing incidents of sexual harassment and stalking of women.

Until now mobile courts dealt with less serious crimes, such as traffic violations and hoarding.

"For the first time a social crime has been brought under the jurisdiction of mobile courts," Abdus Sobhan Sikder, the Bangladesh home secretary, told the BBC.

"The idea behind the move is for a speedy trial in cases of sexual harassment and stalking."

Young women often face verbal abuse and taunts in Bangladesh, and sometimes stalked by colleagues at school or other young men.

Some young women, unable to bear the repeated insults, have even gone so far as to commit suicide.

Usually, it takes weeks before these cases can be heard in a normal criminal court and the conviction rate is said to be very low.

Now the government hopes mobile courts can dispose of the cases quickly - and that the punishments they hand out will act as a deterrent to others.

"Mobile courts all across the country will be trying these cases. District officials can form mobile courts whenever they think it is necessary," Mr Sikder said.

Killings

The High Court last week asked the government to take measures to stop sexual harassment and stalking of women after a number of suicides and killings related to the issue in recent weeks.

Activists say more than 24 people, most of them young girls, have died because of bullying and harassment since the beginning of this year.

In recent weeks, some of those who spoke out against sexual harassment have been murdered, causing public outrage.

A 50-year-old woman died after a motorcycle was driven over her when she protested against the bullying of her daughter last week.

A college teacher who spoke against bullying was also murdered. The killings led to a series of protests across the country.

Campaigners have been urging the government to enact tougher laws to punish those responsible for sexual harassment and bullying.

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