Domestic Violence Amidst Lockdown
The coronavirus outbreak, a global pandemic as declared by the World Health Organization continues to evolve. It has affected all caste, age, group, race residing either in developed or under developed countries. Government of Nepal, along with many other countries around the world has implemented lockdown with travel restrictions, social distancing and isolation. The lockdown has helped to mitigate the spreading of Covid-19 pandemic to some extent. However, this long period of social isolation also have shown detrimental impact on people’s mental health; leading to stress, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, alcohol abuse, hypertension, child abuse and domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act, 2066 B.S. (2009) has recognized domestic violence as a crime punishable by law, in Nepal. The Act defines “Domestic Violence” as any form of physical, mental, sexual and economic harm perpetrated by a person to a person with whom he/she has a family relationship and this word also includes any acts of reprimand or emotional harm. The Act has made the provision for lodging a written or oral complaint, setting out the details thereof with the Police Office, National Women Commission, Local Body and the Court. General Recommendation No. 19 of CEDAW Committee places an obligation on State Parties to take all legal and other measures that are necessary “to provide effective protection to women against gender based violence, including an effective legal measures, preventive measures and the protective measures including rehabilitation and support services for women victim of violence.”
Current news and reports shows that the numbers of domestic violence cases are increasing around the world during this lockdown period. Many victims are being locked in with the abusers for many domestic violence survivors, especially those who are locked in with their abusive spouses. Recent publication of Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) shows that mostly domestic violence against women has taken place during lockdown. It has recorded 83 cases from 13 districts (Kathmandu, Siraha, Dhanusa and others) since the start of the lockdown (i.e. from 24th March to 18th April), in which there are 46 cases of domestic violence, 9 cases of social violence, 14 cases of rape, 2 cases of attempted rape, 1 case of murder or under investigation, 2 cases of sexual abuse, 6 cases of suicide and 2 cases of attempted murder. Among these 83 reported perpetrators, 37 are husbands, 17 are family members, 19 are neighbors, 2 are boyfriends, 1 is friend, 1 is landlord and in 6 cases, perpetrators are yet to be identified. Likewise, there is information that many people’s especially women and children are suffering from domestic violence in this period as reported in various published and non-published news.
Even in normal situations, women use to bear every humiliation, beating, molestation, even burning i.e. women normally do not speak out about their suffering because of their fear of losing honour. In this time of pandemic, people need to support each other especially their family as they are kept in self-isolation by the government for everyone sakes. But the news and reports are suggesting that the numbers of domestic violence cases has increased. Mostly, the cases related to sexual abuse. And due to various reasons, only few cases are reported than the committed ones.
In the context of Nepal, there are problems even in the reporting and filing of the cases as there are several instances where oral complaints were not registered or filed. Even with written complaints, there is a lack of coordination amongst the complaint receiving bodies and in the procedures followed by them. Likewise, even if the complaint is filed, the act has the provisions for negotiations through police offices, which makes the remedy futile. Many victims are left without support mainly because of the poor mechanism to deliver support service as well as a lack of awareness among people regarding such provisions.
As discussed above, it seems that there is an absence of appropriate mechanisms to address domestic violence, even in a normal environment. In this scenario, we can easily assume that what sort of vulnerable situation is being faced by the victims of domestic violence in this lockdown, where the victims are being unable to report their problems to regular authorities. It was reported that in order to stop these kind of violence against women and support affected ones, some of the local levels have started operating case reporting mechanism and providing safe shelter service to affected women and girls which is much appreciative initiative. But they are not enough at all. This kind of initiative needs to be followed by all local authorities so that all affected women shall be provided required services by creating an enabling environment for them to easily report violence done against them.
The Government needs to continue zero tolerance policy even at the time of pandemic and government bodies such as women cell of police and judicial committees need to provide necessary support to needy persons wishing to report cases of violence. Not only being limited to this, the State should take every legal measure necessary to protect women from domestic violence, which inhibits women’s ability to enjoy their rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men. The society needs is to internalize domestic violence as gross human rights violation against women, which requires action from every sphere of the society, including the Legislature, Judiciary, Executive, civil society organizations, and the people generally.
Note: However, during this period of pandemic, if any person who is being suffered and is willing to report the domestic violence against them but is being unable to do so due to lack of awareness about the reporting authority, then such person shall submit their report through calling the Police Hotline Number i.e. 100, National Women Commission Helpline Service i.e. 1145 and through concerned local level.