Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law only prohibits rape of girls and women by men and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the girl or woman is older than 13. Conviction of rape may be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Credible human rights organizations found rape remained a serious issue in the country, with reported rapes throughout the year roughly keeping pace with previous years. Domestic human rights group ASK reported at least 1,321 women were raped during the year. In comparison Odhikar reported 1,538 women and children were raped in 2020; among them, 577 were women, and 919 were younger than age 18. There were allegations of rapists blackmailing survivors by threatening to release the video of the rape on social media.
Rights groups reported violence against women in all forms increased throughout the pandemic. ASK reported 640 women were survivors of domestic violence during the year, including 372 who died as a result of the violence. NGOs mobilized to address an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. There were reports of sexual violence committed with impunity. On June 14, actress Shamsunnahar Smriti, popularly known as Pori Moni, filed a case alleging businessman Nasir Mahmood and five other men attempted to rape and kill her at the Dhaka Boat Club. On August 4, the RAB removed Moni from her apartment during a raid in which agents allegedly found illegal substances including alcohol and narcotics. Some activists stated the police raid was in response to her filing a rape case against a powerful businessman.
On April 26, college student Mosarat Jahan Munia was found dead in her apartment in Dhaka. Nusrat Jahan, Munia’s sister filed a case against Bashundhara Group managing director Sayem Sobhan Anvir Anvi, alleging he abetted Munia’s reported suicide. On July 19, police submitted the final probe report exonerating Anvir of involvement in Munia’s death. On July 26, 51 activists and leaders across the country demanded a reinvestigation into her death, stating, “We believe a proper investigation and appropriate trial for Munia’s suicide or murder is essential in maintaining public confidence in the rule of law of the country.”
In response to a September 2020 gang rape case in Sylhet, Feminists Across Generations, a local group working against gender-based violence and abuse against women, launched “Rage Against Rape,” a movement declaring gender-based violence a national emergency. The organization’s 10-point plan urged for reform and argued the death penalty for conviction would not solve rape culture or gender-based violence. The organization advocated for women and girls’ safety from violence and raised awareness of individual cases of rape. Separately the Rape Law Reform Coalition, a coalition of 17 organizations, continued to advocate for its “Rape Law Reform Now” campaign, another 10-point plan urging for legal and institutional reforms.
According to guidelines for handling rape cases, the officer in charge of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical and DNA tests must be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. Guidelines also stipulate every police station must have a female police officer available to survivors of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the survivor must be recorded in the presence of a lawyer, social worker, protection officer, or any other individual the survivor deems appropriate. Survivors with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the survivor to a timely medical examination.
A collection of political, sociocultural, and human rights groups stated incidents of rape continued to occur due to a culture of impunity. According to human rights monitors, many survivors did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to produce witnesses. The burden is on the rape survivor to prove a rape occurred, using medical evidence.
Some media and NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes concerning dowries, despite recent legal changes prohibiting dowry demands. By law an individual demanding or giving a dowry may be imprisoned for up to five years, fined, or both. ASK found 210 incidents of dowry-related violence against women, with 72 women killed because of dowry disputes during the year.
On February 17, Lima Khatun was allegedly beaten to death by her husband and his relatives in Sirajganj for not giving them gold as dowry. On March 1, Runa Begum was allegedly beaten to death by her husband for continued dowry demands even after taking an initial dowry of 100,000 taka ($1,163) from her. Media reported police arrested the husband. On April 9, a rickshaw puller with disabilities named Jamal committed suicide at his residence in Chittagong due to the constant pressure from his daughter’s father-in-law for dowry.
A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions, village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions.
Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence.
Assailants threw acid in the faces of survivors, usually women, leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were frequently related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or were related to land or other money disputes. A total of 11 acid burns were reported during the first six months of the year.
Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is prohibited by a 2009 High Court ruling, harassment, also known as “Eve teasing,” was common according to multiple NGOs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manusher Jonno foundation, a local human rights group, found multiple instances of women reporting sexual harassment while receiving food assistance. A total of 101 incidents of sexual harassment against women were reported during the first nine months of the year.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Civil society organizations reported that survivors of child marriage had less negotiating power to make family planning choices. According to the 2017-18 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS), three of five girls were married by age 18, with an adolescent birth rate of 28 percent. UNICEF also found nearly five in 10 child brides gave birth before age 18 and eight in 10 child brides gave birth before age 20.
LGBTQI+ groups reported lesbian and bisexual women lacked access to basic sexual and reproductive health care.
A full range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible contraception and permanent methods, were available through government, NGO, and for-profit clinics and hospitals. Low-income families were more likely to rely on public family planning services offered free of cost. Religious beliefs and traditional family roles served as barriers to access. Government district hospitals had crisis management centers providing contraceptive care to survivors of sexual assault.
Effective access to information on reproductive health, including family planning, is one of the prime objectives of the National Population Policy (2012). Aligned with the national policy, family planning services were supported by programs that emphasized informed choice and voluntarism. To aid these practices, the National Family Planning Program used a job aid on clients’ eligibility criteria, a family planning manual, and clients’ consent forms for long acting and permanent methods of family planning. Family planning service providers were trained on reproductive rights and choice.
According to the World Bank’s most recent estimates, maternal mortality rate declined from 2000 to 2017. During that timeframe the rate dropped from 434 to 173 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the BDHS, 12 percent of married women of reproductive age had unmet family planning needs. Weaknesses in the public-health system, such as lack of trained providers and equipment in rural areas, resulted in inequitable access to information and services.
Taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation created social and religious barriers for menstruating women. In conservative communities some menstruating women could not use the kitchen or observe religious practices due to fear of contamination.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in child marriage resulted in girls leaving school at a higher rate than boys. UNICEF noted that girls who marry in childhood are less likely to remain in school.
The constitution declares all citizens are equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection under the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women to those of men “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” According to human rights NGOs, the government did not always enforce the constitution or the laws pertaining to gender equality effectively. Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. According to traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit half of what sons do. According to Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death. In September 2020 the High Court ruled that Hindu widows in the country were entitled to all properties of their deceased husbands, including agricultural property. Previously Hindu women were entitled only to their husband’s homestead properties.
There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for political and economic reasons, and some of these faith groups stated attacks on religious structures increased during the pandemic.
On March 17, an estimated 89 houses and eight temples in a Hindu village in Sylhet were vandalized. Media and civil society attributed the attack to hundreds of members of Hefazat-e-Islam supporters triggered by a resident’s Facebook post criticizing a Hefazat leader for condemning Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit. After the incident the organization released a YouTube video rejecting responsibility for the attack. The government expressed regret and sent the RAB to the village. As of March 23, police had arrested 35 individuals in connection with the attack. Members of the Hindu minority community blamed religious fundamentalist groups for the incident, while some civil society and opposition leaders blamed the ruling party. Some other human rights groups blamed local law enforcement and administration officials for not preventing the attack.
On October 13, media reported anti-Hindu violence broke out following a social media post that went viral depicting a Quran in the lap of a Hindu deity in the city of Cumilla during the Hindu Durga Puja festival (see sections 1.d. and 2.a.). Muslim protesters allegedly attacked Hindus, Hindu temples, and damaged property in several cities. Six persons died in ensuing violence, mostly due to clashes with security forces deployed to restore order. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior officials condemned the violence, emphasized the country’s secular identity superseded religious identity, and the government took measures to compensate Hindu victims.
NGOs reported national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) suffered from restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.
The estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking population (known as Biharis, originally Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to then East Pakistan before the Bangladesh Liberation War) were formerly stateless, and members from this community stated their requests to obtain passports were often rejected by immigration officers due to their lack of a permanent address. Almost all this population still resided in refugee-like camps established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in the 1970s, when Biharis believed they would return to Pakistan following the 1971 war. A December 2020 International Republican Institute (IRI) study claimed living conditions for Biharis in the camps remained poor, with many camps containing fewer than 10 public toilets serving hundreds of residents. The Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, for example, held an estimated 30,000 residents as of January. While older Biharis may have had an affinity to Pakistan, many participants in the IRI study stated they identified as Bangladeshi, particularly those who grew up after the Liberation War. In 2008 a High Court ruling that the Bihari community had rights as citizens prompted the international donor community to cease support as the community was technically no longer stateless. While the government provided some basic services, including water and electricity, Biharis reported social and economic discrimination as well as a lack of initiatives integrating them into society, leaving them isolated in crowded camps.
In September some Biharis expressed concern officials would reject their official status as Bangladeshis, expropriate their land, and implement policies to force the Biharis to return to Pakistan.
The indigenous community of the CHT experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education. These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which has not been fully implemented, specifically the portions of the accord empowering a CHT-specific special administrative system consisting of the three Hill District Councils and the Regional Council. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.
An August 2020 study found land confiscations, livelihood risks, and violence against indigenous women increased during the pandemic. While the country had a 20 percent poverty rate, poverty in the plains, where some indigenous persons lived, was more than 80 percent and more than 65 percent in the CHT. The study also found a lack of health care for indigenous persons. Other organizations corroborated health care available to indigenous persons was well below the standard available to nonindigenous persons in the country. In October 2020 a group of indigenous tribal leaders presented a memorandum to the government stating a significant portion of the food security needs of marginalized communities in CHT remained unmet.
Throughout the pandemic, multiple NGOs reported severe food insecurity due to the abrupt job loss by indigenous persons outside the CHT. Since many indigenous persons most in need of assistance lived in remote areas difficult to access by vehicles, many indigenous communities reported receiving no government assistance.
In November 2020 business conglomerate Sikder Group, in partnership with the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust, started constructing a five-star hotel and tourist resort on Chimbuk Hill, located in the CHT, despite protests from the Mro, the resident indigenous community, regarding resulting evictions. According to activists, the project would displace 115 Mro families in four villages and lead to a larger estimated displacement of 10,000 persons. Indigenous rights groups stated the land in question is held under customary law by the tribal community for its own use, and transfer of such land may only take place with the informed consent of the indigenous residents. According to these groups, the proposed project site was critical to subsistence crop cultivation, the sole source of livelihood for the Mro people. In January a video circulated showing a confrontation between Mro villages and persons at the hotel construction site.
Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported deforestation to support Rohingya refugee camps and other commercial pursuits caused severe environmental degradation in their land, adversely affecting their livelihoods. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas.
The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year. According to one organization, Naika Mardi, an indigenous person and Liberation War fighter, was unable to register 0.04 acres of land to his name, even after trying for 10 years. Madi had been living on this land since before independence in 1971.
The Chakma and Marma indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in intra-indigenous community violence. The factional clashes between and within the United Peoples’ Democratic Forum and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti resulted mostly from the desire to establish supremacy in particular geographic areas. Media reported many leaders of these factions were engaged in extortion and smuggling of money, drugs, and arms. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remained unresolved. NGOs and indigenous persons familiar with the situation warned intraparty violence in the CHT had risen sharply.
Reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel remained unresolved.
Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories that were previously not part of the country. The government did not register births for nor extend citizenship to Rohingya refugees born in the country, although it permitted UNHCR to register births within the refugee camps. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through eighth grade by law, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. Teacher fees, books, and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, despite free classes, and the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but completion rates fell in secondary school, with more boys than girls completing that level. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school. Numerous civil society organizations stated many families of school-aged children struggled to find access to the internet in order to benefit from online schooling during the pandemic.
Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. The law prohibits child abuse and neglect with the penalty for conviction up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. According to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), a network of child rights NGOs, the law was not fully implemented, and juvenile cases – like many other criminal cases – often lagged in the judicial system. The Department of Social Services, under the Ministry of Social Welfare, operated “Child Helpline – 1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation. The hotline received approximately 80,000 calls a year on average and was accessible from anywhere in the country. The hotline center provided services such as rescue, referral, and counseling.
ASK reported a total of 453 cases of violence against children were filed in the first half of the year.
Odhikar reported child rape increased alarmingly during the year. According to a survey, 64 percent of rape survivors in Chittagong were children and adolescents. A 2019 BSAF report on child rape stated children as young as two were among the rape survivors and cited a failure of the law-and-order situation in the country as reason for the increase in child rape. In BSAF’s 2020 report, the domestic organization Human Rights Support Society reported 850 children were raped and 136 violent incidents were committed against children.
During the year former students detailed multiple allegations of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and older pupils in Islamic madrassas. In May a former leader of the Chhatra League raped a ninth-grade madrassa student. Family members later rescued the girl, finding her in critical condition. The man beat the girl’s father when he demanded justice. In September a father of a nine-year-old girl in Cox’s Bazar accused his daughter’s teacher of raping her inside a local madrassa. Many smaller schools had few teachers and no oversight from governing bodies.
Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces.
The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. The law includes a provision for marriages of women and men at any age in “special circumstances.”
In a 2020 report UNICEF reported 51 percent of women married before age 18, down from 59 percent estimated in its 2018 report.
On June 26, media reported Shahin Hawladar, a 60-year-old man and Kanakdia union chairman and member of the ruling party, married a 14-year-old girl after he arbitrated the girl’s and her 19-year-old boyfriend’s elopement. Hawladar, who was already married with two children, presented legal documents alleging the girl was 18. On June 28, he divorced the girl and handed her over to her father. On June 29, a case was filed against Hawladar and five others for forcibly marrying the underaged girl. Police were instructed to investigate the case, and a court initially suspended Hawladar from his chairmanship, but the decision was stayed on appeal.
To reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying. The government also launched 4,800 clubs around the country, reaching more than 150,000 adolescents. The structure of each club included approximately 20 young girls and 10 boys, who worked together on their own empowerment projects. Activities included educational awareness, advocacy, and life-skills training.
According to the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, two mobile services were available to report cases of child marriage and other services: the Joya App and a “109 Hotline.” According to the ministry, more than 1,000 girls used the hotline every day.
Numerous civil society organizations cited cause-and-effect relationships between the extended school closures due to the pandemic and an increased risk of school dropouts and child marriage. According to these organizations, child marriage increased by 13 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. On July 29, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs in partnership with international and local partners, launched an “Actions to Prevent Child Marriage in Bangladesh” campaign designed to encourage families to condemn the harmful practice of child marriage and help advance the objectives of the government’s 10-year National Plan of Action to End Child Marriage (2018-2030). Part of that campaign includes the “One Million Pledge to End Child Marriage in Bangladesh,” a pledge drive focused on community engagement, capacity development, mass media mobilization, and advocacy.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for conviction of sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. Child pornography and selling or distributing such material is prohibited. A 2019 report of the NGO Terre des Hommes-Netherlands stated street children were the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation but had little legal redress due to a lack of social and financial support and a lengthy criminal justice system. The report stated although the government took “necessary legal and institutional measures to combat commercial sexual exploitation, children face multiple challenges in accessing justice.” The report found 75 percent of female children living on Dhaka streets were at risk of sexual exploitation, with an estimated 30,000 girls sexually exploited. The government, through the help of several organizations, worked to improve the quality of life of the country’s estimated 1.5 million street children and provide them access to education, health care, shelter, and safe employment opportunities.
Underage girls trafficked in brothels were able to produce notarized certificates stating they were older than age 18, and some NGOs claimed corrupt government and law enforcement officials condoned or facilitated these practices. In addition to cross-border trafficking, traffickers lured girls from around the country into domestic commercial sexual exploitation in legal and illegal brothels and hotels.
Displaced Children: See section 2.f.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was no Jewish community in the country. Politicians and imams used anti-Semitic statements, reportedly to gain support from their constituencies.
See the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, and the government took mostly effective measures to enforce these provisions. NGOs reported the government took cases of violence based on discrimination against persons with disabilities seriously, and it acted to investigate and punish those responsible for violence and abuses against those with disabilities. Nonetheless, civil society reported those with disabilities were the most vulnerable group throughout the pandemic, especially women and girls.
Executive Director Badiul Alam of Bangladesh Protibandhi Unnayan Sangstha (BPUS), a local NGO that has supported more than 7,000 persons with disabilities, estimated 15 to 20 million individuals, or 10 percent of the population, possessed some form of disability. BPUS estimated more than 60 percent of the disability population lived in rural areas without access to government support.
In 2020 the government passed the National Building Construction Act. Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. For example, government buildings had no accommodations for persons with disabilities. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees had not been activated. In some cases local authorities were not aware of their responsibilities under this law.
The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. The law states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for conviction of not giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. Local NGOs estimated 50 to 60 percent of those with disabilities were unable to exercise their right to vote, as voting centers lacked accommodations for persons with disabilities. Most polling centers had no access to priority voting and no assistive tools such as braille ballots for visually impaired persons to vote confidentially. A 27-member National Coordination Committee is charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation. Civil society organizations advocated the inclusion of those with disabilities in the national parliament, stressing representation would ensure their needs are taken into consideration during decision making.
According to the NGO Action against Disability, some children with disabilities did not attend public school due to lack of accommodation, but data were not readily available. The government trained teachers on inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities. A peer-reviewed study released in July 2020 found many families with children with disabilities lacked knowledge and access to government programs and benefits.
The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as other persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised. Additionally, many organizations reported persons with visual disabilities experienced difficulties accessing technology, depriving them of equal access to education, information, health, and other basic human rights. While individuals reported government websites contained more user-friendly services for persons with disabilities, they also reported information for persons with disabilities was usually uploaded on portals as scanned documents, which made it incompatible for software used by visually impaired persons. Community members reported documents uploaded in formats readable by assistive technology would make a positive difference. The government provided visually impaired students with accessible books every year and was working on a National Web Accessibility Guideline to make all government services accessible to persons with disabilities through a national web portal.
The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Activists reported the government’s plan of action for ensuring rights of women and girls with disabilities needed strengthening.
The government took action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. The government plans to make its national helpline more inclusive and accessible.
Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government operates 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances. Activists reported the monthly government allowance for persons with disabilities was 775 taka (nine dollars) and requested the government consider increasing the allowance in the national budget.
Government inaction limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility during elections.
Civil society organizations and LGBTQI+ activists often cited social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations as a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men. Mental health care was a top concern, and according to these groups, mental health-care providers tended to use moralistic terms to shame LGBTQI+ persons. In terms of physical health care, many practitioners expressed discomfort in discussing sexual activity, and shamed patients who discussed sexually transmitted infections. Neither PrEP nor PEP, pre- and post-exposure medications that prevent transmittal of HIV during sex, were available in the country. The government made HIV testing free of cost, but stigma regarding testing and seeking treatment remained strong. On October 19, the government published national antiretroviral therapy guidelines to outline efforts to increase treatment availability around the country.
Same-sex sexual conduct is illegal under the penal code. The government did not actively enforce the law. LGBTQI+ groups reported the government retained the law because of societal pressure. LGBTQI+ groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTQI+ individuals and individuals who were perceived to be LGBTQI+ regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to limit registration of LGBTQI+ organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious-behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized but recognized as part of society. Nevertheless, it experienced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks. Police investigation and prosecution of those complicit in violence or crimes against LGBTQI+ individuals remained rare.
Members of LGBTQI+ communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police. They stressed the need for online and physical security due to continued threats of physical violence. In August an antiterrorism tribunal sentenced six individuals to death in the killing of two gay men five years ago, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of the country’s first gay rights magazine and a prominent gay rights activist.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. LGBTQI+ groups reported official discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and access to government services including health care and access to justice.
While some transgender women in the country identified as hijra (a cultural South Asian term for some transgender women as well as some intersex and gender non-conforming individuals), due to an affinity for the hijra subculture or a desire for increased social protection, not all chose to do so. Many transgender women asserted their transgender identities and corrected those who identified them as hijra. Meanwhile, transgender men received little support or tolerance, particularly in poor and rural communities. Some conservative clerics decried the transgender community and sharply distinguished it from the hijra identity, saying the latter would be tolerable while the former remains unacceptable.
Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.
Although the government made some progress in promoting social acceptance of hijra persons, a small segment of the community, the government made limited efforts to promote the rights of others in the LGBTQI+ community. On September 16, the director general of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics announced the national census would include hijra as a “third gender” category; the census was scheduled to be conducted in 2022.
The issuance of illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred.