(Advocacy for repeal of requirements re past sexual history in rape cases, prohibition of two finger test, proposals for reform of rape definition, and procedures for investigation and prosecution)
According to Section 32 of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000, which enumerates the collection of medico-legal evidence, a victim should be examined by a doctor in a government hospital or a government approved hospital and the medical certificate should be presented to the police. The medical certificate is issued upon conducting a highly invasive physical examination of the woman or girl concerned which is commonly known as the ‘two-finger test’
Forensic experts opine that the two-finger test is conducted with the fingers of the examining doctors which is not scientific as the hymen indicating virginity of the rape victim may be torn or damaged by physical exercise, disease or due to menstruation.
Expert consultation among medical professionals, law enforcement agencies, women’s rights advocates, and government officials noted with concern that the so-called “two finger test” conducted by physicians in medical colleges across the country on women and girls who have made complaints of rape is unscientific and has no forensic value. It further iterated that instead of yielding any medical or legal benefit for the rape victim, the two-finger test could be emotionally traumatizing and such practice is in violation of fundamental rights as guaranteed under Articles 27, 28, 31, 32 and 35(5) of the Constitution of Bangladesh. BLAST after many months of earlier research and consultation on the issue with concerned experts and review of its own casework, as well as coordination and networking with concerned organizations, filed a writ petition before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.
In response to a PIL filed by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Ain O Shalish Kendro (ASK), Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), BRAC (Human Rights and Legal Services), ManusherJonno Foundation, Naripokkho, and two individual doctors, Dr.Ruchira Tabassum Naved and Dr, Mobarak Hossain on 8 October 2013, the High Court issued a rule asking the concerned government authorities to show cause why the two-finger test carried out on rape victims should not be declared illegal. It further directed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to form an expert committee comprising forensic experts, law enforcement agencies, public health officials and others providing support to rape victims and to develop a comprehensive guideline within three months. According to the ruling, police, physicians and judges of the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Tribunals would be required to comply with the said guideline.
On 12 December 2013, BLAST in consultation with all the petitioners involved, sent forward a list of ten experts from various fields including gender, forensic medicine and public health to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for inclusion in the Court ordered Committee. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has now constituted the said Committee and the first meeting has been scheduled to be held on 12 January 2014.