The High Court yesterday declared stalking of girls and women illegal, and directed the government to consider the offence as sexual harassment.

The court’s ruling came amid growing incidences of stalking that led many victims to commit suicide.

The court also asked the government to properly define “sexual harassment” in the law, and replace the term “eve teasing” with “stalking” as a sexual offence in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act.

According to the act, the maximum sentence for sexual harassment is now ten years of imprisonment, and the minimum is three years.

Responding to a writ petition, an HC bench of Justice M Imman Ali and Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif asked the government to enact a new law, or amend the existing one to protect the victims and witnesses of the offence.

There should be a provision for specialised doctors to take care of the mental trauma of the victims, and status of the doctors should be mentioned in the investigation report, the bench said.

Incidents of stalking of girls and women at any place in the country have to be brought under trial in accordance with the law, the court added.

It ordered the government to set up separate cells at every police station across the country to monitor and deal with stalking cases.

The cells will submit monthly reports to respective superintendents of police, or commissioners of police, who will discuss those at the meetings of District Development Committees under the deputy commissioners to take necessary actions, the court said.

It also asked the government to bring all cyber cafes under registration, and monitor their use by boys below 18 years of age.

It directed the authorities to take necessary steps immediately against previous stalking incidents.

The court said its directives will be considered as law, and mobile courts will deal with incidents of stalking until the government enacts a fresh law or amend the relevant law for stopping the crime.

Petitioner’s counsel, Advocate Fahima Nasrin, told The Daily Star that the HC’s earlier directives on the government to prevent stalking of girls and women will also remain upheld.

The HC on November 2 last year had ordered deputy commissioners of all districts, and some other government agencies to remain on high alert regarding stalking, and to take effective steps to stop the crime. It had also directed the inspector general of police to take immediate steps to apprehend all stalkers.

It had ordered local administrations to take effective actions against stalkers as soon as they get information of such incidents at any place of the country.

The HC bench delivered yesterday’s verdict following a public interest writ petition filed by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), seeking protection of women and girls against stalking.

The petition had been sparked by over two dozens of deaths resulting from such stalking.

According to a legal rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, at least 25 women killed themselves to escape the horror of stalking by men, while nine males lost their lives for standing up against such stalkers in the nine months before filing of the petition.

During the same period, a father committed suicide, unable to withstand watching her daughter being humiliated; a woman was killed by neighbourhood hoodlums; four women attempted suicide; around 131 women were assaulted by male stalkers; and 54 males came under attack for protesting against stalking.

Fahima Nasrin said the HC directives will play a significant role in reducing the crime.

During hearing of the petition, Deputy Attorney General Motahar Hossain Saju informed the HC that the government took almost all steps to stop incidents of stalking, and to punish stalkers as per the court’s earlier directives.

Source: Daily Star – 27.01.2010