July, 2014

Udisa Islam

The draft also quashes the ‘two-finger test,’ traditionally used by doctors to find out

The Health Ministry has drafted a new guideline that, if implemented, will bind police to record a rape victim’s statement within three hours of being approached and hospitals to conduct medical examination without police reports. The draft also quashes the “two-finger test,” traditionally used by doctors to find out whether someone is really raped or not. The guideline labels the test “unscientific” and “horrendous.” As part of its directives for the law enforcement agencies, the draft specifies how a trial should be approached and the victim should be dealt with. It states that a victim needs not be present at the court during every hearing session if a case is filed in connection with an alleged rape. In October last year, following a writ petition filed by a number of rights bodies, the High Court issued a ruling for the government asking why the two-finger test should not be declared illegal as it violated constitutional rights. While filing the writ, Sara Hossain, one of the petitioners, referred to Habibuzzaman Chowdhury, the then head of forensic medicine at the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, who was quoted in a Dhaka Tribune report as saying: “If the victim is married, middle-aged or has conceived multiple times, then how could this test [two-finger test] help find any evidence?” As part of the two-finger test, a doctor would insert the index and the middle fingers inside the vagina of an alleged rape victim to find out whether her hymen is intact or not. The HC in that ruling also asked the government to prepare a comprehensive guideline within 90 days that would govern the way various parties treated a rape victim. The ministry however missed that deadline by about a month. Rita Das Roy, a member of the committee formed to outline the guide, told the Dhaka Tribune: “It has been observed that rape victims are usually put under a horribly judgmental microscope from the moment they call up the cops. They are often subjected to judgmental attitudes by doctors and other staffs in the hospital. The new guidelines include that every hospital must ensure security for the victim until she is fit enough to filea case. It also makes it mandatory for hospitals to have designated rooms for ensuring privacy of the victim.” The 10-member committee was formed soon after the HC ruling. It is headed by an additional secretary of the health ministry. Other members include senior officials from the ministries of health, home, law and women and children affairs, health officials and human rights activists. The draft has already been placed before another health ministry committee, who are likely to approve it sometime soon. According to the draft that the Dhaka Tribune has accessed, authorities must arrange training sessions for sensitising doctors and other medical staffs about the protocols, the new guideline and how to examine/report rape cases. No third person must be present inside the room when a doctor is carrying out the medical tests. In the past, hospitals would examine victims only after getting first information reports (FIRs) from police. The new guideline nullifies that provision. It also says that managing witnesses is not the duty of the victim anymore. If a case is filed, trial should be conducted in a gender sensitive atmosphere. It would also be mandatory for the forensic medical reports to state precisely the reasons for each conclusion drawn. Everything in the report should be explained in the manner and language that the patient can understand. Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights 1966 and the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power 1985, rape survivors are entitled to legal recourse that does not re-traumatise them or violate their physical or mental integrity and dignity. In 1979, the United Kingdom had to give up its policy to use virginity testing on women who said they were immigrating to marry their fiancés, who were already living in the country. Through a similar guideline, the Indian government last month prohibited the two-finger test and asked all hospitals to set up designated rooms for their forensic and medical examination.

- Source: Dhaka Tribune


About Safe

Growing Up Safe and Healthy (SAFE) is testing out an intervention for promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and reducing violence against women and girls (VAWG) in Dhaka slums, Bangladesh. It seeks in particular to foreground women’s and girls’ rights to choice and consent with regard to marriage, sex and childbearing.