Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Image Credit: Reuters

Washington: Bangladesh's Cabinet approved a proposal to elevate the maximum punishment for rape to the death sentence from life in prison on Monday, following widespread protests across the country against sexual violence.

A meeting led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the plan to amend the country's Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters in Dhaka.

President Abdul Hamid is likely to issue an ordinance by Tuesday to enact the new law as parliament is currently not in session, according to Law Minister Anisul Huq.

The amendment comes as protests against sexual violence faced by women have erupted across the South Asian nation. The most recent protests followed reports of the assault of a woman by a group of men in the southeastern Noakhali district. There have also been protests against the gang rape of a woman in the northeastern area of Sylhet.

According to Ain o Salish Kendra, a Bangladeshi human rights organization, 975 women or girls were raped in the first nine months of 2020. Over 200 of these cases were gang rape. Since these numbers are based on media reports, and most survivors do not report assault, they most likely capture only a small fraction of the true number of cases of sexual violence against women and girls in Bangladesh.