By: Aakriti Bansal
Amidst the lockdown, when the whole world is fighting the novel Coronavirus, some of the women are fighting another battle at home as ‘home’ and ‘safety ‘are not synonymous for some of them. There has been a sharp spike in the number of domestic violence cases globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue of shadow pandemic as the UN women have termed it is being faced by women in several countries. In South Africa alone, the first week of the lock-down witnessed 90,000 reports of violence against women. In Malaysia and China, the distress calls have doubled. Helplines in Singapore and Cyprus have registered an increase in calls by more than 30 percent. In Australia, 40% of front-line workers in a New South Wales survey reported increased requests for help with violence that was escalating in intensity. In France, domestic violence has risen by 36% since the beginning of the lock-down. In Italy, calls to helplines had dropped sharply, but instead, activists were receiving desperate text messages and emails.The situation in India is exceptionally worse. In a society like the Indian society where patriarchy is deeply embedded in the roots, men find women an easy target for venting their anger and frustration upon. The latest data released by the National Commission for Women (NCW) shows a two-fold increase in gender-based violence from 116 (March 2-8) to 257 (March 23-April1); domestic violence cases are up to from 30 to 69.
Domestic violence is all-pervasive and is grossly under-reported even under normal circumstances but the existing circumstances make it even harder to report owing to the limitations on women’s access to phones, disrupted public services like police, courts and social services. The culmination of various factors has led the women who are living in close proximity with her abuser to bear the worst brunt of this unprecedented situation.
Issue of skewed wage gaps, an uncertainty over receiving salaries, facing job losses, stress related to security and health, the threat of hunger and poverty, disruption of social and protective networks, differential literacy rates, escalating unemployment, looming recessionary conditions are some of the factors which can be attributed to an increasing number of domestic violence cases which in no way justifies the abuse. For protecting the women from domestic violence, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enacted with the purpose to protect the women from any violence inflicted on her by her husband, in-laws while being at her matrimonial house.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 gives a comprehensive definition of Domestic violence under section 3 and includes physical, sexual, economic, verbal and emotional abuse. The said act protects both legal and fundamental rights. The victims of domestic violence are being denied the right to live with dignity which forms a part of Article 21(Right to Life and Liberty) of the Constitution of India. But as rightly conveyed by the legal maxim ‘Ubi jus ibi remedium’ which means where there is a right, there is a way.
Ways Which are Being Adopted Internationally
Various countries have taken cognizance of the hike in number of domestic violence cases and have adopted a proactive approach in tackling the menace of domestic violence. In France, The government has announced that it will pay for 20,000 nights in hotel rooms for victims of domestic violence and open pop-up counseling centers at supermarkets.
France, inspired by a similar scheme in Spain, has started telling victims to head to drugstores. If they can’t talk openly in the store, they can simply say the codeword “mask 19” to the pharmacist behind the counter.
In the United Kingdom, the police are encouraging victims to use what they are calling a silent call: by calling emergency number 999 and then dialing 55 the police say that they will recognize the call as “a cause for concern”
The government has given a $142 million boost in funding to tackle domestic violence.
The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set aside tens of millions of dollars to support women’s NGOs, shelters and sexual assault centers across Canada.
- In Malaysia, the 24-hour Talian Kasih hotline to help deal with mental turmoil during MCO(Movement Control Order).
- In Antigua and Barbuda, online and mobile service providers have taken steps to deliver support such as free calls to helplines.
- In Colombia, the government has issued a decree to guarantee continued access to services virtually, including legal advice, psychosocial advice, police and justice services including hearings.
As per the UN recommendation, the governments around the globe should :
- Increase investment in online services and civil society organizations
- Make sure judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers
- Set up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries
- Declare shelters as essential services
- Create safe ways for women to seek support,without alerting their abusers.
- Avoid releasing prisoners convicted of violence against women in any form.
- Scale-up public awareness campaigns.
- Strengthen helplines, including through protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA).
- Online counselling and technology-based solutions such as SMS, online tools and social support networks.
- Expand the capacity of shelters, including re-purposing other spaces, such as empty hotels, or educational institutions, to accommodate quarantine needs.
Measures adopted in India
Pune Zila Parishad has provided a helpline number at the district level and has hired a psychologist for counseling. If the harassment does not abate even after counseling, the harasser would be sent to institutional quarantine.
- The National Commission of Women (NCW) has launched a helpline number to enable those facing domestic violence to send a WhatsApp message to access help. Many women don’t know how to send an e-mail, whereas WhatsApp is easy to use. The messaging facility will also be beneficial for those women who aren’t comfortable making a call because of a threat to their lives.
- Tamil Nadu government has hired vehicles to rescue the women in distress, has also been roped in Anganwadi workers to protect the women, an updated list of phone numbers of the protection officers has been uploaded on the government website and the police department has also set up tele- counseling centers.
- The Jammu & Kashmir High Court passed an order taking suo moto cognizance of domestic violence cases during the lockdown, and offered a slew of directions including the creation of a dedicated fund and designating informal safe spaces for women like grocery stores and pharmacies, where they could report domestic violence without alerting the perpetrators, increasing awareness campaigns on all aspects of the issues, increasing online counseling services.
- The Karnataka government’s Santhwana centers are providing counselling, legal aid, medical aid for the victims and protection officers were working “round the clock” to help victims of violence.
- Uttar Pradesh police has launched a helpline to succour the victims of domestic violence. Through an advertisement that says “Suppress corona, not your voice” UP police has sent a clear message to the society that the cases of domestic violence will be given enhanced response.
India is the world’s most dangerous country for women according to a survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation due to the high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour. It gives all the more reasons to take systematic steps to handle the issue at hand and eliminate intimate terrorism from Indian society. AICHLS (All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties & Social Justice), an NGO has recommended which can be used in the current scenario.
It has suggested that Nodal Officers should be appointed to attend distress calls by victims, area-wise hotline numbers should be set up which must function 24/7, wide publicity of all helpline numbers through TV ads, social media, newspapers, on news channels, the radio, SMSs, Tele-Calls must be done, free online or tele-counselling facilities should be offered to both the victim and the abuser, allow relaxation/exemption to any person who breaks the norms of the lock-down as a result of trying to report abuse, establishing a silent call or helpline number/facility or a code word (as agreed upon by authorities) which may be used to report domestic violence, as the proximity of the abuser during the lock-down may not allow the victim to make the complaint in any other manner.
Other measures which can be opted for are to appoint dedicated mental healthcare practitioners to aid the women to deal with the traumatizing effects of domestic violence, to set up temporary shelters with basic facilities, to engage more number of one-stop centers which provide emergency response and rescue services, medical assistance, assistance to women in lodging the FIR, physiological and counseling, legal aid and counseling, shelter services, video conferencing facility to help the victims in these difficult times, a certain amount of funds should be allocated protect the victims of domestic violence and outcome budgeting must be practiced which helps in making the process more transparent and holding the government accountable. Other strict measures must be adopted by the government of India without deviating from the COVID-19 action plan to protect the victims of domestic violence.
Author: Aakriti Bansal, ll.b 2nd year, Department of Laws, Panjab University Chandigarh