COVID-19 and domestic abuse and violence

Movement restrictions aimed to stop the spread of the corona virus may be making violence in homes more frequent, more severe and more dangerous.

Domestic violence has been defined as encompassing any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationships. It is a major social and public health problem with significant costs on individuals, families, communities and the society.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines violence as ‘the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation’.

Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) of India, domestic violence is defined as ‘any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent in case it—(a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or (b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or (c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or (d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.

According to the Crime in India Report 2018, published by the National Crimes Research Bureau (NCRB), every 1.7 minutes a crime was recorded against women in India, every 16 minutes a rape was committed and every 4.4 minutes a girl is subjected to domestic violence.

Factors influencing domestic violence

It is quite apparent that domestic violence does not constitute an occasional, rare incident. In fact, it is a regular, systemic and structural manifestation of social control. No single factor can alone explain the reasons of domestic violence. Rather, there are several complex and interrelated factors such as institutionalized social and cultural factors, family institution, including fear of and control over female sexuality, belief in the inherent superiority of males, and independent legal and social status. According to the World Health Organisation, one in every three women across the globe experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by any perpetrators in their lifetime: at least 30% of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

Factors Outcomes
Sociocultural Gender-specific socialization
 Cultural definitions of appropriate sex roles
 Expectations of roles within relationships
 Belief in the inherent superiority of males
 Values that give men proprietary rights over women and girls
 Notion of the family as the private sphere and being under male dominance
 Customs of marriage (bride price/dowry)
 Acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict
EconomicWomen’s economic dependence on men
 Limited access to cash and credit
 Discriminatory laws regarding inheritance, property rights, use of communal lands and maintenance after divorce or widowhood
 Limited access to employment in formal and informal sectors
 Limited access to education and training for women
LegalLesser legal status of women either by written law and/or by practice
 Laws regarding divorce, child custody, maintenance and inheritance
 Legal definitions of rape and domestic abuse
 Low levels of legal literacy among women
 Insensitive treatment of women and girls by police and the judiciary
PoliticalUnderrepresentation of women in power, politics, media, and legal and medical professions
 Domestic violence not taken seriously
 Notions of family being private and beyond control of the state
 Risk of challenge to status quo/religious laws
 Limited organization of women as a political force
 Limited participation of women in organized political system

Increase in domestic violence cases

Domestic abuse is being reported all over the world such as China, Argentina, Germany Turkey, South Africa, UK, USA, France, Malaysia, Lebanon to name a few. UN chief Antonio Guterres has called for global `ceasefire’ because of horrific global surge violence directed towards women and girls linked to lockdown imposed globally in response to the pandemic. It is expected that millions of cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and unintended pregnancies may occur during crisis causing devastation

Before COVID-19 broke-out the statistics reveal that every third woman in the world has faced violence at least once in her lifetime. The mandatory lockdown being imposed in wake of COVID-19 is leading to increase in number of incidents of domestic violence. In 2020, between March 25 and May 31, 1,477 complaints of domestic violence were made by women. This 68-day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years. The National Commission for Women has reported a rise of 94 percent in complaint cases where women have been abused in their homes during lockdown.

Laws on domestic violence in India

Although women may be victims of any of the crimes such as ‘murder’, ‘rape’, ‘robbery’, ‘cheating’, etc., the crimes that are directed specifically against women are characterized as ‘Crimes Against Women’. These are broadly classified under two categories:

  1. Crimes identified under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and
  2. Crimes identified under the Special Laws.

The crimes identified under the IPC include: rape (Sec. 376); kidnapping and abduction for different purposes (Sec. 363/373); homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts (Sec. 302/304-B); torture—both mental and physical (Sec. 498-A); molestation (Sec. 354); sexual harassment—referred to in the past as eve-teasing (IPC Sec. 509); and importation of girls (up to 21 years of age) (Sec. 366-B).

The crimes identified under the Special Laws include those specified under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956; the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961; the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986; the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987; the National Commission for Women Act, 1990; the PC & PNDT Act, 1994; the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006; the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012; and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Key Constitutional Rights conferred to women in India

Article14Confers on men and women equal rights and opportunities in the political, economic and social spheres
Article15Prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, etc.
Article15(3)Makes a special provision enabling the State to make affirmative discrimination in favour of women Article 16 Provides for equality of opportunities in matter of public appointments for all citizens
Article 21Protection of life and personal liberty—No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law
Article39(a)State shall direct its policy towards securing to all citizens, men and women, equally, the right to means of livelihood
Article39(c)Ensures equal pay for equal work
Article 42State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief
Article 47Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health
Article51(A)(e)Imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to renounce practices derogatory to dignity of women

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16 highlighted that 30% women in India in the age group of 15-49 experienced physical violence since the age of 15. The report suggested that among married women experiencing physical, sexual or emotional violence, an alarming 83% claimed that their husbands were the main perpetrators of such forms of abuse, followed by abuse from the mothers (56%), fathers 33% and siblings 27% of the husbands. The major crimes reported by women in India are — cruelty by husband or relatives 32.6%, assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty — 25%, kidnapping and abductions 19% and rape 11.5%.

Therefore it is necessary to protect oppressed women in India with the help of stringent laws, appropriate schemes, rules and regulations. Such protection shall be provided not only on the grounds of fundamental rights violations but also on humanitarian, social and economic grounds.

Published by Sanskriti Vats

I am a law student and a content writing intern at "EDUindex News".

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