Lockdown’s due to COVID across the world have locked up victims of domestic violence with their abusers. Law and policy face a new challenge in protecting the victims and delivering justice in these times. The authors report on global developments from which India can learn to tackle these challenges.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, reports of domestic violence upsurging all over the world is worrying. The pervasive spread of the virus has forced domestic violence victims to stay at home with their abusers, leaving them with little options to find any shelter or even solace. In abusive households, women have to battle the male aggressor inside and the virus outside. As they are closely confined within the walls of their houses, living with abusive partners hurts them both physically and emotionally.
Furthermore, in low-wage households, husbands tend to be more abusive towards their partners and verbalise their exasperation on them. The lack of an income during the pandemic and the looming threat of hunger also added to the problem. Women who are financially dependent on their husbands suffered more.
According to one report, one out of the three women globally have experienced violence over their lifetimes. Due to the lockdown, many of the victims were not able to contact the police or social workers as they were trapped at home with the abusers.
Global Response and Measures
The cases of domestic violence have increased around the world during the lockdown period. In France reports of domestic violence have risen to 30% after the onset of lockdown. In China, according to their reports, the offenses of domestic violence nearly doubled during the lockdown, with 90% related to the pandemic. In a recent study, UN agency for sexual and reproductive health (UNFPA) stated that if the lockdown continues for another some months the cases of domestic violence would be more than 31 million worldwide.
“In various parts of the world, strategy to protect women from their perpetrators have developed gradually while keeping view of the lockdown and social distancing measures. “
This upsurge in domestic violence against women prompted UN chief Antonio Guterres to make a frantic appeal and instructed governments to put women’s safety first while responding to the pandemic.
In various parts of the world, strategy to protect women from their perpetrators have developed gradually while keeping view of the lockdown and social distancing measures.
Many Countries like Spain, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Norway, and France have launched Campaign Mask-19 also known as the Code-word scheme. When a woman experiences abuse at home or sexual assault, she can visit the nearest pharmacy and request for Mask-19. The pharmacy staff will note down her name, phone number and address and they inform the police stations and emergency services to tip them off about the abuse.
The upsurge in the number of cases during the lockdown forced the French government to proclaim that they will open pop-up counselling centres and pay for hotel rooms for victims.
In Italy, the government has introduced an app that enables domestic violence sufferers to seek help without making any phone calls. The government is also considering an offer to allocate 4 million euros for shelters for women who are victims of abuse.
In Malaysia, the government implemented the Talian Kasih hotline to provide proper assistance to the victims of domestic violence and other forms of violence. In Greece, officials confirmed that there are upsurging a campaign to provide women with the help they need to deal with problems that transpired from the issue of confinement.
In New Zealand, motels are offering their vacant rooms as shelters for the citizens who need to leave unsafe houses without the violation of social distancing parameters.
Domestic Violence: Where does India Stand?
India’s condition is not an exception to the trend of an increase in violence against women during the pandemic.
In the first three weeks of the nationwide lockdown, data of the National Commission for Women (NCW) indicated the expeditious upsurge in the number of domestic violence cases “ between March 23 and April 16. NCW registered 587 complaints related to domestic violence against women. This was a notable upsurge from 396 complaints received in the past 25 days between February 27 and March 22”. Moreover, most of the cases were reported from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, and Punjab.
“The police are taking required efficacious measures to combat with this domestic violence pandemic.”
The police are taking required efficacious measures to combat with this domestic violence pandemic. The Uttar Pradesh Police launched a helpline Number for domestic violence victims and the Kerala government and the NCW have launched a WhatsApp number to report domestic violence. Several NGOs and Helplines have been operating 24 hours to help or counsel victims of domestic violence by transferring them into a secure place and also providing counselling over the phone or on an online medium.
The All India Council of Human Rights Liberties and Social Justice filed a petition for the safety of victims of domestic violence which has increased rapidly since Lockdown imposed by the Government. A bench of Justices J.R. Midha and Jyoti Singh of the Delhi High Court directed the Central Government, Delhi government, Delhi Commission of Women and other authorities to summon the meeting at a high level and consider the issue of victims of domestic abuse during this period and required steps should be immediately implemented to protect the sufferers of domestic violence from abusers.
Suggestive Measures for the Government
The violence against women has been prevalent for so long and for the protection of women from perpetrators, Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was implemented by the government.
According to the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 women can seek protection from violence against them. In Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya vs State Of Gujarat And Ors, the Supreme Court of India held that Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act not only ensures protection to the married women but also live-in relationship couples.
However, access to such a resort is nearly difficult for the sufferers who are confined in violent and abusive environments with the abusers during the lockdown period. The authorities need to take effective measures to protect the victims and instead of publicising the phone number, vigilant and regular checking of suspicious houses should be done during the ongoing pandemic. Moreover, the victims who are able to get away from the torture, find themselves isolated without any facilities and support.
Hence, it is necessary for the government to create shelter for the victims and give them a protective environment. Apart from these, professional counsellors, psychiatrists, mediators, lawyers, and even psychotherapists can prove to be a vital asset by helping the needy person through WhatsApp, phone calls, video-conferencing etc. during this time.
Furthermore, community gatekeepers including religious, youth, and women leaders can create awareness about the negative impact of domestic violence and familiarise women about their rights within the community and they can safely report the cases of gender-based violence to the concerned authorities.
The government can also declare the concept of “One-stop Centres” as earlier introduced in 2015 as a part of scheme Sakhi sponsored by the central government as an essential service.
The government can also adopt an approach similar to European nations and can initiate informal complaints centres in medical stores, grocery shops and so on. Thus, all protective measures should be declared as an important service to protect domestic violence victims. We need to ensure that these victims are not forgotten while the battle against the pandemic goes on.
“With the extension of lockdown, the sentence of confinement for the sufferers only gets prolonged. “
In a country with deep-rooted patriarchal morals, where the women are supposed to tolerate each and everything that is thrown in their way, there needs to be an equitable way out. With the extension of lockdown, the sentence of confinement for the sufferers only gets prolonged.
Fighting these abusers and the beasts who prey upon the frangibility of women, is as salient as tackling with the pandemic.
The administration and law enforcement agencies need to understand the severity of the issue. The protection of women cannot be put on hold until we win the battle against the pandemic.
The administration should instigate proper steps without digressing from the COVID-19 work plan to protect and help victims of domestic violence.
(Prachi is a student at ICFAI University, Dehradun; Astutya Prakhar is a student at NUSRL, Ranchi. Views expressed are personal.)