**This is a developing story and has been updated**

Hena Begum, a 14-year-old old Bangladeshi girl, was publicly flogged recently in Shariatpur, 35 miles outside of the capital, Dhaka after being accused of having an affair with her 40-year-old old married cousin.

According to the BBC, a village court made up of Islamic clerics and elders sentenced Begum to 100 lashes under Islamic Sharia law. The girl lost consciousness after 80 lashes and her family, who were also ordered to pay 50,000 taka (approximately $700), took her to the hospital where she died six days later.

What Sort of Justice? 14yr old Hena Begum. Image Credit: Daily Star

“What sort of justice is this?” Begum’s father told the BBC.  “My daughter has been beaten to death in the name of justice. If it had been a proper court then my daughter would not have died.”

As for the “affair” accusation, Bangladesh’s Daily Star suggests that Begum was actually raped by the cousin.

Four people, including a Muslim cleric, have also been arrested in connection with Begum’s death and the police are looking for an additional 14 people who were involved.

The country’s High Court has ordered officials in Shariatpur to explain why Begum was sentenced under Sharia law, since Sharia punishment was made illegal in October 2010. That’s when the High Court declared Bangladesh a secular state, making the issuing of fatwas illegal and a punishable offense.

Begum’s death is a testament to how, despite efforts by Bangladeshi women’s rights groups and civil society, the legal system in the country remains inaccessible for the majority of the population. It often fails to protect those who need it the most: women and children. Longtime Bangladeshi women’s rights activist and former Member of Parliament, Tasmima Hossain, explained the situation to me:

The legal system in our country has failed to reach the ordinary masses. Neither the Government nor the NGOs or any legal system is physically or financially accessible to 90 percent of the people. They cannot afford it. So the primitive Sharia law takes advantage of that in the name of salish, or arbitrary rulings like we have seen in the case of Hena Begum. The so-called mullahs and local village leaders take advantage of the situation in the name of religion.

The BBC reports that dozens of fatwas are issued under Sharia law each year by village clergy in Bangladesh, and this is the second death linked to Sharia punishment despite the practice being outlawed: In December, a 40-year-old woman died in the Rajshahi district after she was caned publicly for having an affair with her stepson.

*This post of mine was first published on  Ms. Magazine.

7 comments

  1. Dear Anushay,
    This news upset me to no end. I still have tears in my eyes thinking about this beautiful child being punished for an act that most probably she had no control over. How this could be allowed to happen anywhere in the world in 2011 is surreal. The only injustice worse than the punishment of a victim of a crime regardless of age or sex or social class, is the punishment of an underage victim. Even if we assume she willingly obliged the 40 year old man, which we know is probably not the case, is a 14 year old girl mature enough to know how to handle such a situation? What punishment has the “molester” faced? In American prisons child molesters are kept away from the general population for their own safety because they’re looked upon as the lowest of the low even by the other inmates. Thank you for keeping us enlightened about the injustices to women and child in other corners of the world. Living in America or anywhere in the west for that matter, it’s easy to keep blinders on.

  2. Please read the latest 2 articles in the Daily star. You will be really upset then. Unbelievable. Even after being whipped the girl shouldn’t have died. Doctors and police did not even look at her body. It’s upsetting if you are in hospital and they only looked at her face. I can hardly sleep when I think about the child. The post mortem even said she had no inner nor outer injuries. Look at her photo on the Internet shortly before she passed away.. She could not even eat. Massive cover up of rape. The rapist is absconding, but even if not, he was to be whipped by his own father.

  3. Even if the poor girl had consented to it (which I bet she hadn’t), it should still be classified as ‘statutory rape’. It’s a shame that both the legal and the healthcare systems of our country have failed to provide support to this innocent little girl. It’s high time we wake up to reality.

  4. What kind of people ask for such heinous acts (it cannot be called a punishment) against a minor girl child? We are told to respect elders due to their wisdom, because they have seen more of life and they are able to give us their opinions based on their life experiences, is this what they think as justice? And if so, why don`t they stand up for what they believe and come forward and face the public and justify what they have done? Why hide is you are so sure enough of yourself that you can inhumanely kill a minor child? what sort of criminal punishment is this? How could the perpetrator go to sleep at night or for that matter pray to God? This act must have taken time to implement, why couldn`t have anyone from there have come forward and opposed it, why couldn`t they have at least informed the police? Is there no justice for the average girl in Bangladesh? No basic protection? No rights as a human? We have gained our independance after so much struggle, and with such high hopes, why are we still not free? What is the price? I pray that I`ll be alive to see the day and finally be free.

  5. this story is a gross misrepresentation of islamic shariah law. if you or any of those feminist actitvists knew anything about it, te perpetrator (the rapist) is to be beheaded not flogged. harm coming to the victim is nowhere mentioned in shariah.
    this story is also an exampleof irresponsible journalism upon your part.
    torturing women and exacting dowry from the bride is uniquely a feature of your precious bangladesh. what transpired here is bangladeshi rural communal mentality in action, not islamic law.

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