Dhaka slum girls exposed to sexual violence

News - Adolescent girls in urban slums more vulnerable to violence, sexual harassment

Adolescent girls are the worse victims of violence and sexual harassment in urban slums for lack of knowledge and awareness and also due to persisting culture in the society, said researchers and physicians at a seminar on Thursday.

They said although Bangladesh has attained remarkable success in increasing the literacy rate for women and reducing maternal and child mortality, violence against women and girls is still pervasive in the society.

International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) organised the dissemination seminar on a baseline study findings of the action research project, ‘Growing up Safe and Healthy (SAFE): Addressing Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Violence against Adolescent Girls and Women in Urban Bangladesh’ at its Sasakawa Auditorium at Mohakhali in the city.

Chaired by director of ICDDR,B Centre for HIV and AIDS Dr Tasnim Azim, the seminar was addressed, among others, by advocate Tarana Halim, MP, Dr Ruchira Tabassum Naved, first secretary of the Netherlands Embassy in Dhaka Ella de Voogd, and researchers M Irfan Hossain, Suborna Camellia and Kausar Parvin.

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The findings of the baseline study undertaken by ICDDR,B and the Population Council in the slums of city’s Mohakhali, Mohammadpur and Jatrabari were shared at the seminar.

The study revealed that women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights are consistently being violated, with gender-based violence occurring at alarming rates.

About 76 of the women surveyed had endured physical or sexual abuse during the last 12 months, with 43 percent having suffered both physical and sexual abuse. About 85 reported that their husbands restricted their access to health care.

The study found that key perpetrators of violation against adolescent girls in urban slums are parents and elders in the family, neighbors, community leaders, mastans (hoodlums), local men, strangers in the community, and intimate partners.

Repressive sexual norms combined with double standard about male and female sexuality increase the vulnerability of girls, curb their opportunities, and pose as barriers to achieving their aspirations, according to the baseline study.

Speaking at the seminar, advocate Tarana Halim said adolescent girls are more vulnerable in urban slums as they are ignorant about their rights. “Their parents are also ignorant about the rights their daughters have.”

She said there are a number of laws in the country to protect the rights of women and children, but these laws are not properly enforced. “We must take steps to implement the existing laws to ensure the rights of women and children.”

Dr Ruchira Tabassum Naved, Principal Investigator of the SAFE project, said: “Our findings clearly demonstrate high rates of child marriage and denial of other sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls in the slums. We hope SAFE will be able to show which interventions are useful and which are not.”

Funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands, the SAFE project is implemented by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST); ICDDR,B; Marie Stopes Clinic Society; Nari Maitree (We Can Campaign); and the Population Council.

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