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Bangladesh activists urge ban of 'finger test' for rape victims

DHAKA -- Bangladeshi experts and activists Monday urged the government to ban a “demeaning” physical examination of rape victims, saying the procedure is of no benefit in proving whether an assault has taken place.

The country's British colonial-era law, which dates back to 1872, requires that doctors use two fingers to determine whether a woman who is alleging rape is “habituated to sex.”

But with studies and doctors raising questions over the effectiveness of the test, lawyers, police officials and women rights activists have joined forces to demand the government scrap the process.

“The two-finger test is demeaning and does not provide any evidence that is relevant to proving the offence,” over 100 experts including doctors, lawyers, police, rights activists said in a joint statement.

The reported number of sexual assaults on women in Bangladesh have been growing steadily in recent years, reflecting a trend across South Asia including in India where the fatal gang rape of a medical student in December triggered weeks of protests.

Local rights group Odhikar reported 805 rape cases last year. Although the figure is vastly under-reported, it is nearly double the reported cases in 2009.

Under Bangladeshi law, physicians and forensic experts examining rape cases must follow a government-prescribed medical evidence form which requires them to give details of the alleged victim's internal organs.

But doctors say the two-finger test, medically known as per vaginal examination, can be avoided.

“The test hardly helps glean any evidence when the victim is a married, middle-aged or a woman who has conceived multiple times,” said Habibuzzaman Choudhury, head of forensic medicine at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College.

“In case of under-aged rape victims, the effect of assault is so pronounced on their bodies and sex organs that it can be detected without the two-finger test,” he told AFP, demanding its ban “as it further traumatizes victims.”

India has also faced calls since the December gang rape to scrap similar physical examinations, with the New York-based Human Rights Watch organization calling the procedure “unscientific and degrading.”

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