Domestic violence: Is there any punishment?

Masuk Helal

Fifty per cent of Bangladeshi women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to either physical or sexual abuse by their partner or husband, a recent World Health Organisation’s report reveals. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has also recorded similar statistics. Dynamic approaches including active participation by families, educational institutions, societies, judicial system and broadly initiatives by the the state are required to change the scenario. At the same time, the importance of an effective legal framework to protect the victims is undeniable.

Many people think that there are enough legal instruments in Bangladesh. They also put emphasis on the proper implementation of the existing laws rather than amending them. I think they are partially right. Actually, the existing laws – though are not enough – lack crucial clauses to ensure protection of women from abuse. The applicability of the laws is indistinct while the institutional structure of law enforcement is weak too.

The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in Bangladesh doesn’t define separately domestic violence as an offense. The criminal court, though, has the jurisdiction regarding the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010, the act mostly provides civil law solutions. There is a common perception that the law has been enacted to ensure a violence-free family environment by a compromising coexistence. That’s why the law empowers the court to deliver orders on the domestic violence surviving woman’s protection, her residence, compensation and safe custody for children. It only has provisions of delivering jail term or fines for the law violators and false complainers. Proper execution of the civil solutions under the law could play a crucial role in protecting the survivors. But the problem is that the 2010 law hardly provides justice to the survivors of domestic violence if they file a case under it.

A survivor would want the case procedures to continue under a special tribunal. But there is no legal ground, because domestic violence is not included in the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children Act-2000. The victim can file a case against her husband or in-laws under a section of the law (Section 11) only when the crime is connected to dowry-related violence like injuries and murder. Sometimes, lawyers advise the survivors to file complaint under section 11, even the issue is not related to dowry. That's why the cases have been proved false many times though the allegations of domestic violence are almost true. That means that a major portion of the victims remain out of the legal coverage despite the 2000 law was enacted to prevent violence. The reality is filing a murder case under the 2000 law is not possible even when a woman is killed in domestic violence.

There is little remedy for domestic violence through the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children Act while the criminal courts deal with cases related to murder and all types of injuries. The way the special tribunal is considered suitable than the general criminal courts in dealing with dowry-related physical violence, in the same way, domestic violence should have been included in the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children Act. Domestic violence needs to be addressed separately. Neither the Penal Code nor the women and children violence prevention law recognises domestic violence properly.

The Indian Penal Code got amendment in 1983 to recognise domestic violence as a cognisable offense. The amended law now provisions a three-year jail term for husbands and in-laws convicted of domestic violence and cruelty. Following the amendment, the Indian courts in many times have punished offenders, recognising physical torture, denial of food, confining in room and beating children as a means of mental torture to wife as cruelty.

With the definition of domestic violence in the 2010 law of Bangladesh, divorcees and widows surviving domestic violence hardly get justice. There are lack of necessary shelter and protection for the victims too. The important thing is that application of the 2010 law is being neglected gravely. Efficiency of the law enforcers needs to be ensured. Awareness building is also crucial. We should recognise domestic violence as a criminal offense. Amendment of the existing laws, besides other social and economic steps, is necessary to make the legal instruments and security against domestic violence fruitful.

* The author is an associate professor at the Department of Law, University of Dhaka

*This article appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Sadiqur Rahman