Victims of domestic violence seek justice less

According to a BBS report, about 73 per cent women have fallen victim to violence by their husbands at some point or another.Symbolic Image

The woman had to remain in hospital for two days, falling victim to her husband’s abuse. Her family, under force, later paid her husband Tk 50,000 as demanded, yet the marriage didn’t last.

The girl (20) shared the stories of her two-year stormy marriage, sitting in a yard in Ambaria village under Rajapur union of Sirajganj’s Belkuchi upazila on 19 February.

The woman’s house is in Aguria Char village under Rajapur union of the same upazila. You need a boat to reach there in monsoon but the water levels are low now.

She came to Ambaria on foot for the work of non-government organisation (NGO) National Development Programme (NDP). The woman, who has studied up to Class Five, has taken sewing training there.

The woman was saying that she got divorced eight months ago. She never took any legal assistance for the abuse or to get her Tk 200,000 dower (den mohor) money. In her words, “Who will chase after the case! My parents accepted it, I did too.”

The paved road in the upazila is lined with green trees, crop fields and canals with bede (river nomads) families settled in tents on the banks of some canals.

The clicking sound of the handlooms or the constant mechanical noise of the power looms come from the locality nearby.

People living in the quiet village have grown accustomed to the sound coming from the looms till 11:00pm. Similarly, it seems they have grown accustomed to domestic violence as well.

Including that woman from Aguria Char, 21 women from adjacent Aguria, Harinathpur, Mokimpur, Chandrapara and Belgachi village shared their stories on last 19 February.

Except from three or four, the rest of them have fallen victim to domestic violence at the hands of their husband more or less. Three of them despite complaining at the village arbitration, never reported it or filed a case with the police.

Some of those women say that one just has to survive through the beating. The incidents of abuse happen more because of financial crisis. So they work to earn for the family.

As many as 16 of those women work in looms and on farmlands. Meanwhile, two of them were former members of reserved women ward of the union parishad (UP).

Two government and non-government studies showed that two-thirds of women in the country are victims of domestic violence, but the rate of taking legal action is only three per cent. 

Due the lack of awareness, desire to make the marriage last, social shame and financial pressure, most of these women do not report it at the police station.

They don’t seek justice under either the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010 nor Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 (amendment 2003 and 2020) or any other applicable law.

A survey conducted by non-government organisation Manusher Jonno Foundation in 28 unions of 14 upazilas in 14 districts from the chars (river islands), coastal areas, hill tracts and haor regions stated almost 31 per cent women have fallen victims to physical, mental, financial and sexual abuse last year.

The survey was conducted on 1,000 plus men and women under a project titled ‘Community-based Resilience, Women’s Empowerment and Action (CREA)’.

It stated that for the lack of awareness on the different types of abuse they often don’t realise that they have been abused. So, even after falling victim to abuse only 16 per cent file a case. That survey area included Sirajganj’s Belkuchi upazila as well.

According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS)’s latest ‘Report on Violence against Women Survey 2015’, about 73 per cent women have fallen victims to violence by their husbands at some point or another.

But, 39 per cent women don’t feel the need to report it. For the fear of public shame, the loss of social status and humiliation of the family almost 27 per cent women don’t want to file a complaint.

Under such conditions, International Women’s Day was observed yesterday, 8 March, with the hope of equal rights in the family, society and the state. The motto for the day this year is ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’.  

They keep enduring abuse

A woman (37), mother of two from Belgachi village said her husband had hit her on the head with a wooden plank lying next to his hand, when she woke him up to go to work one morning. She had fainted from all the beating. Despite experiencing regular violence, she complained to the UP chairman just once.

Another woman (34) from the same village said, “My husband hits me with anything like bricks, sticks or piece of wood, he finds close at hand.”  She said, no matter to whom she goes to complain, whether it’s the UP chairman, UP member or the police, it would cost her money. So, she doesn’t go there.

That woman said she wanted to move to Dhaka in search of work once being fed up with her husband’s beating. Her only child (17), an SSC examinee then had stopped her saying, “Maa (mother), please don’t go. Let me grow up, I’ll earn money and feed you.”

Another woman was saying that an arbitrator had collected her Tk 4,500 from her husband for divorcing him in the village arbitration. But, the arbitrator himself took away Tk 1,500 from there.  

The report of Manusher Jonno Foundation stated that in 70 per cent of the violence cases, women are comfortable to complain before the UP chairman.

Chairman of the department of criminology and police science at Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, Mohammad Omar Faruk back in 2020 had conducted a study on 390 women from eight divisions.

The study titled ‘Criminal justice System Status Quo and Recommendation for Domestic Violence Victims in Bangladesh’ stated that 87 per cent of the women in the country fall victim to physical, mental, financial and sexual, these four types of domestic violence.

Only one per cent of them have filled cases and about three per cent of them settled it through arbitration or through NGO.

Why they endure abuse

Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and UN Women conducted a research titled ‘Women Access to Justice in Bangladesh: Avenues for Reform’ in September 2022.

The report which is about to be published is done by Taslima Yasmin, associate professor at the department of law in Dhaka University.

The report stated that despite there being a legal structure, it’s failing to protect women because of social and institutional barriers.

Social reforms like public shaming, accepting abuse, fear of the reaction after reporting incident of abuse, economic inequality, social and financial dependence on men and the lack of awareness are the main obstacles for women in seeking justice.

And institutional obstructions include police not responding instantly, hassle of filing and continuing the cases, lengthy judicial procedures and trying to settle disputes out of the court.

Lack of govt prevention system

The largest project government has on preventing violence against women is ‘Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence against Women (4th phase)’, run by the ministry of women and children affairs.

A total of ten activities including awareness campaign, helpline, One-Stop Crisis Centres (OCC) in 14 medical college hospitals and 69 One-Stop Crisis Cells (OCC Cells) in district Sadar hospitals and Upazila health complexes are conducted under this project.

More than 62,000 women and children have received assistance at the 14 OCCs from 2000 to 2023. As much as 61 per cent of them were victims of physical abuse. But the rate of filing cases is just 31 per cent.

Legal officer at Dhaka Medical College Hospital OCC, Tahmina Nadira told Prothom Alo that in most cases the physical abuse happen at the hands of the husband indeed.

They are sent to the OCC when they come to the hospital seeking treatment. They don’t want to file cases for the fear of divorce, being denied of child support and for the lack of money, she added.

Since after the pandemic, the project has been undergoing budget cuts. Last year the allocation was reduced by up to 25 per cent. Director of the project, Prakash Kanti Chowdhury said that the project expired last December. Then the project period was extended by six months without any allocation.

The project is being extended for two years from July by revising it for the protection of women and children. OCC cells will be made more active in upazilas where the violence rate is high. Plus, initiative will be taken to make the domestic violence prevention act more familiar and effective, he added.

Mindset of tolerating violence must change

Professor Omar Faruk believes identifying domestic violence as ‘personal issue’ needs to be stopped. The family culture has to be humanitarian insightful.

Measures have to be taken to implement the act to prevent domestic violence. The delay in the trial procedure has to be removed. And women themselves also have to be aware of their right to justice, said he.

If an environment of seeking justice is not is not created, we’ll have to shed tears like the former woman UP member of Belkuchi and say, “I have been suffering for so long. I feel like sobbing whenever I start talking about it.”

[Prothom Alo correspondent in Sirajganj, Ariful Ghani helped preparing the report.]

*This report appeared in the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been re-written for Prothom Alo English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha.