Let's Talk about Domestic Violence!
Along with the implementation of laws against domestic violence, societal
attitudes must be changed, states ISHITA DUTTA.
The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act (DV Act) was enacted in the year 2010 to prevent and provide protection for women and children against domestic violence. The DV Act is especially significant in the context of Bangladesh as it is the first express recognition of the problem of domestic violence by the State. However, even after its enactment, domestic violence remains a daily reality for many women in Bangladesh.1 A major factor contributing to the underutilisation and ineffectiveness of the DV Act in combating domestic violence, is the social perception and understanding of the issue which continues to view domestic violence as a 'personal, family matter' as opposed to being a manifestation of gender based violence (GBV) requiring the intervention of the state.
The parameters of GBV
Gender based violence (GBV) has been recognised as “the most pervasive and destructive systematic violation of women's human rights”2. The universality of GBV is perhaps its most distinctive and disturbing attribute. Women across the world, irrespective of social or economic status, education, religion or culture are affected by violence in a variety of forms. Through the relentless efforts of international and national organisations over the last 30 years, GBV is now recognised as a grave human rights and public health issue.
In the context of South Asia, the problem of GBV assumes special importance as “the worst manifestations of gender based violence have been observed in South Asia” which has also received infamy for being the most gender insensitive region in the world3. The unquantifiable mental agony, in most cases remains unreported, which is apparent from the fact that stalking led to the suicide of 40 girls in the four year period between 2006 and 2010, while family violence, physical or mental resulted in 4,747 women and girls killing themselves between 2001 to 20104. With respect to domestic violence, the following statistics shed light on the pervasiveness of the problem in Bangladesh:
* 48.7% of ever-married women age 15-49 have faced some form of physical violence (NIPORT et al., 2009)
* 53.3% of ever-married women age 15-49 have faced some form of physical and/or sexual violence (NIPORT et al., 2009)
* 13.2% of ever-married women age 15-49 have faced both physical and sexual violence (NIPORT et al., 2009)5
Data received from the Bangladesh Police show that out of the 109,621 complaints of various forms of violence against women lodged within a period of less than two years (January, 2010-August, 2011), only 18,484 complaints were taken into cognizance. Less than a third of these complaints (6.875) were considered to be 'genuine' and fit for further proceedings. These numbers reinforce the general perception that law enforcement agencies in most instances are unable to protect women adequately.6
Why the DV Act was enacted
The Law Commission of Bangladesh in a report published prior to the enactment of the DV Act stated that “domestic violence in Bangladesh is not a rarity but phenomenal in prevalence.”7 This statement and the statistics above are demonstrative of the legal lacuna that the DV Act purports to fill.
In addition to the afore stated objective, the DV Act resulted in fulfilment of the state's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as well as Article 28 of the Constitution, guaranteeing special measures for the advancement of women and children.
How the DV Act works
The DV Act contains the first statutory definition of domestic violence in Bangladesh and states in Section 3 that domestic violence is "abuse in physical, psychological, economical and sexual nature against one person by any other person with whom that person is, or has been, in family relationship, irrespective of the physical location where that act takes place". Regarding the forum, Sections 4, 5 and 6 respectively, state that after receiving a complaint a Police Officer, Enforcement Officer or Service Provider shall inform the victim about the availability of the services including medical and legal aid services. The DV Act further grants Judicial Magistrates the power to award interim orders, such as protection orders (Section 14), residence orders (Section 15), maintenance orders (Section 16) and safe custody orders (Section 17) for continuing protection of survivors of domestic violence.
The shortfalls in the DV Act are
Several studies and reports have documented the phenomenon of underreporting of all crimes constituting GBV in Bangladesh. The social factor that hinders the reporting of domestic violence in particular is the notion that women are deserving of the violence or themselves instigate the violence by disobeying their husband or his family members, being unfaithful or acting in a way that brings disrepute to her husband.8 The natural consequence of underreporting is that fewer cases are filed and litigated under the DV Act.
A review of cases litigated by Bangladesh Legal Aid & Services Trust (BLAST), a leading specialist legal aid and advocacy NGO, reveals that less than 30 complaints of domestic violence have been filed by BLAST on behalf of clients before judicial magistrates ever since the inception of the DV Act in 2010, in the whole country. Acknowledging that these figures reflect the experience of one organisation only, it is nonetheless discouraging to note that the outreach of the DV Act is so limited that cases litigated under it are less than 1% of a specialist legal aid NGO's total caseload.
The nominal number of cases that reach the level of legal redressal face further obstructions. The chief procedural impediment in this regard is that the rules of procedure necessary to implement the DV Act have not yet been adopted. This results in ambiguity regarding several basic procedural issues such as the format in which a complaint for domestic violence will be made, criteria for awarding compensation in suitable cases. Moreover, lack of gender sensitivity and entrenched gender stereotypes mean that stakeholders within the judiciary and law enforcement struggle to apply the law purposively and give appropriate relief to women litigants.
Recently, the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in New Delhi, India became the rallying point for thousands of protestors who took to the streets and expressed their acute dissatisfaction with the state authorities' failure to prevent and protect women from violence. The protests in India found widespread popular support due to the fact that rape is perceived to be an especially egregious form of GBV that law enforcement agencies of the state should protect women and girls from. The societal attitude towards domestic violence in most instances is starkly different. This is not to compare the two manifestations of GBV but to state that there is a latent cultural and social acceptance of domestic violence in Bangladesh which hinders prevention of the crime.
Legislation cannot function in vacuo. In order for the DV Act to be effectively implemented and for it to grant real protection to women, the social mores and patriarchal attitudes that condone GBV including domestic violence have to be eradicated, greater awareness has to be spread among people as to their constitutionally protected human rights and infrastructural mechanisms created for the implementation of the DV Act have to be strengthened.
1. Bangladesh." World Report 2011: Events of 2010
. Bangladesh." World Report 2011: Events of 2010
2. United Nations Development Program, Gender Equality and Justice Programming: Equitable Access to Justice for Women.
3. A Situational Analysis of Violence Against Women in South Asia, Ruchira Tabassum Naved, UNFPA, Violence Against Women in South Asia: A Regional Analysis, April 2003. Available at: http://www.unfpa.org.np/pub/vaw/VAW_REG_Analysis.pdf
4. Statistics provided by Jatiya Mahila Ainjibi Samity; “10,000 committed suicide a year”, The Daily Star, November, 15, 2012.
5. NIPORT, Mitra and Associates, & Macro International, 2009.Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2007 Dhaka, Bangladesh and Calverton, Maryland, USA: National Institute of Population Research and Training, Mitra and Associates, and Macro International
6. Inter-Press Service News Agency, “Violence Against Women Persists in Bangladesh” December 26, 2012.
7. Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, the Law Commission, A Final Report on the Proposed Law of Domestic Violence along with a draft bill namely, the Domestic Violence Act, 200…, December 29, 2005. Available at:
8. Ibid. Also see: Mst. Taslima Khatun and Khandaker Farzana Rahman Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology. Volume 9, Number 2. 2012 Domestic Violence against Women in Bangladesh: Analysis from a Socio-legal Perspective Also see: Supra at i
9. BLAST Annual Report, 2011 Available at:
10. Joint Programme Document UN – GoB Joint Programme on Violence Against Women (VAW) in Bangladesh. 10 December, 2009 Available at:
Ishita Dutta is a legal researcher working on women's rights issues with Bangladesh Legal Aids & Services Trust and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.