The Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act, 2010 deals with such cases in Bangladesh. The enactment of this Act was the outcome of an alliance between State’s obligations under the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and nongovernmental advocacy. Domestic violence was recognised as a violation of human rights in 1993 with an obligation on the state parties of CEDAW to work towards a definitive legal framework that would raise awareness, prevent and ultimately help the society get rid of domestic violence.
Question is why only 3.1% conviction then and 72% hushed up incidents? This article explores the Act to find out why it has not been effective in curbing domestic violence. The Act defines ‘domestic violence’ as, “physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse against a women or child of a family by any other person of that family with whom the victim is, or has been, in family relationship.”
The definition, which follows the model domestic violence law provided by the Committee on CEDAW, is quite inclusive. Not only does it bring emotional abuse with physical one but also recognise economic abuse. The wide scope of the wording does ensure that dowry demands, demands for surrendering one’s salary, refusal to incur household cost whether conditionally or unconditionally, fall within the scope of this section. Unlike many other countries with similar legislation, the definition is not limited to spousal or intimate partner abuse. However, it must be noted that this Act does not criminalise domestic violence itself; nor has it been made a separate punishable offence. Rather it only defines domestic violence reiterating the traditional avenues open to victims of abuse. It is more like a declaration and confirmation of the rights to be ensured to a victim of domestic violence. It is pertinent to note here that a victim of domestic violence in this Act is only women and/or children (section 2(18)); the Act does not address any domestic violence suffered by a man.
The Act ensures a victim’s immediate rights to the required and necessary medical services, the services of enforcement officers, necessary legal services under the Legal Aid Act, 2000 and to file complaints under any other law (section 4). It is the duty of a police officer, responding to an incident of domestic violence to announce these rights. Therefore, the police officers themselves need to be trained to recognise the offence and to apply the law correctly and there must not be laxity from them creating scopes for further victimisation of the victim. This seems impracticable to achieve in a society where the societal status and cultural views often do not even perceive controlling, manipulating behaviour as a right violation and more importantly, most victims do not even identify themselves as victims.
A careful reading of the Act would reveal that a major portion of the responsibilities lies on the police, enforcement officers and service providers who are part of the same society which is already in denial of domestic violence. Thus without their proper training, counseling and sensitisation, which by the way has not been mentioned or provided for in the Act, proper application of the Act seems unlikely.
The Act confirms that upon application of a victim, the court may give certain kinds of orders (sections 10-17) - interim and permanent protection order, residence order, maintenance of the victim and/or children and custody order of children.
Given the social and cultural makeup of our country it is understandable why imprisonment has only been used sparsely e.g. for failure to follow protection order (section 30) or false complaint (section 32), as more severe punishments may lead to dissolution of marriage. But it fails to provide for the counseling for the accused whether first time or repeated and/or some process to tackle or reduce chances of retaliation and repetition by the perpetrators. If a husband divorces a wife because of a complaint under this law, certainly this law cannot give her any protection.
Probably the deadliest flaw is that the Act fails to allow for raising awareness and sensitisation both at national and community level, which was very effective in dealing with acid violence. The society at large is ignorant about domestic violence, its forms and techniques and the devastating impacts it leaves on victims. Domestic violence impacts not just spouse or intimate partner but the children as well. It has long since been found connected to post traumatic stress disorder, learned helplessness, anxiety, depression, drug abuse, suicidal tendencies, low self-esteem, lack of motivation and poor academic performance in children to the least. One in every two male child brought up in a domestic environment of violence would be abusers themselves while one in three female children from such families would seek out a violent and abusive partner in their adult lives.
Still we do not consider it a problem let alone a violation of human rights. Rather it is accepted, tolerated or overlooked to various extent in the name of culture, sanctity of family unity, love or righteousness. Only our awareness and dialogue may usher in the end to this problem not our ignorance and indifference. It is time to build a social movement that stigmatises the perpetrator of domestic violence and give victims a platform to stand.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Eastern University.