Under the sweeping lockdown conditions of some form or the other across all the countries in the world, a sharp rise in the domestic abuse calls has been observed worldwide. Domestic violence instances have often risen during a crisis but, the containment measures put to limit the spread of coronavirus, has exacerbated domestic violence. The situation is so problematic that the United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health is under the fear that if restraint measures continue for another six months, then there are chances of an estimated 31 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide.
As the focus on social distancing is increasing and governments are putting restrictions on people to stay at home, the place that is considered safe for all is housing the ever-increasing domestic violence cases. According to the WHO reports, since the lockdown was put in place, there has been a 60 per cent rise in domestic violence calls in Europe. In Hubei province of China, where Covid-19 cases were first detected, reported domestic violence cases tripled in comparison to the same period last year. Domestic violence cases appear to be rising in India, in line with the increased cases of such abuse globally, in countries like UK, USA, among others.
Domestic Violence scenario during the lockdown in India
The problem of domestic violence has always been a major cause of concern in our country. According to the National Family Health Survey-III, only 2 per cent of the 37.2 per cent women who had faced some form of domestic violence during their marriage, were willing to seek help from the police. During this period of lockdown, this condition has only been getting worse.
In India, the first signs of this problem appeared when the National Commission for Women (NCW) in mid-April, suggested a hundred per cent increase in domestic violence cases during the lockdown. From March 23 to April 16, NCW reported 239 domestic abuse complains which is almost double of 123 complains received during the period of twenty-five days from February 27 to March 22. Strangely, a number of NGOs and police officials have reported a decrease in the number of complaints during the lockdown. For instance, the Delhi Commission for Women reported a significant decrease in reported cases. However, the reason for the same can be attributed to problems obstructing women from reaching these helplines. Lockdown is a hindrance to both space and time which are essential to reach out to authorities. The victims may not be able to report cases because of fear of moving away from the perpetrator or constant presence of the abuser under the same roof during the lockdown.
Lockdown has given a free hand to the abusers at home. Their frustration arising from various difficulties like no means to earn income, expenditure on necessities, unavailability of alcohol, and lack of means of enjoyment, is coming out in the form of spousal abuse. The other reason is also the unavailability of awareness programs and other forms of help from various NGO and other groups, due to the nationwide lockdown.
Government Initiatives and how effective are those.
With the increasing problem of domestic abuse, NCW has launched a helpline number that would help the victims send a call for help through a WhatsApp message, ensuring much easier access than e-mails. In spite of this step, the problem of reporting still remains. A considerable faction of women in our society still lack access to any electronic means and therefore postal method remains the only means for them to seek help from authorities. The NCW has received no complaints via postal method since March 22, which substantiates that the ongoing lockdown has deprived these women of the only means of complaint that was available to them.
The majority of the cases that have been reported during the lockdown belong to literate, upper class women. Since a vast number of domestic abuse cases occur in rural areas, these women who have no access to mobile phones, can not be assumed to resort to WhatsApp as a complaint mechanism.
The domestic violence Act, 2005 was passed, keeping in view the fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21. Article 21 can only be taken away by a procedure established by law. By failing to take into account the problems of all the sections of women and lack of equal opportunity to complaint domestic abuse, the government is violating the right to life and liberty of such victims.
Suggestions to improve the situation.
Considering the plight that women have to face on a daily basis, the government needs to implement more inclusive reforms. To curb the menace of domestic violence during such periods when women can not find an escape to reach out and complaint, holistic mechanisms of a complaint need to be developed. For proper development and implementation of the policies in respective regions, the state governments should be invested with more power.
The other suggestion would be to have a 24/7 helpline number, where complaints can also be made through simple SMS alerts. Awareness should be created about such helplines through advertising in newspapers, radio channels, hoardings, and social media channels. Provisions should be made for institutional quarantine of perpetrators of domestic abuse during the period of lockdown. Counselling services, shelter homes and medical support should be provided to such victims and there should also be access to transportation to reach these places of help. It should be mandated that temporary officers be appointed, in case there is a lack of permanent protection officers during the period of lockdown. Complain mechanism can be adapted to include certain code words to report domestic abuse at groceries or medical shops, which is similar to the model adopted in Spain and France. It is also important that neighbourhood campaigns should be initiated to develop a local support system. Most importantly, One Stop Crisis Centers should be restored as a part of essential services.
With the lockdown in place, the unavailability of usual services, and no one to reach out to, the domestic abuse victims are exposed to vulnerable circumstances. Proper and immediate implementation of safety measures can only help such victims for whom, unlike many others, staying at home does not ensure their safety, rather proves detrimental to their well-being.
Author: Sakshi Sharma,
Intern at lawportal,
Author: Sakshi Sharma,
NUJS (1st year)