On April 15, when Obaidul Haque Tutul brutally murdered his wife, Tahmina Akhter, 28, on Facebook live, while streaming in Sadar Upazila district, the country witnessed its first domestic violence fatality since the lockdown began. Then Obaidul surrendered himself to the Feni Police Model Station and confessed his guilt.
According to a survey report of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), Since Covid-19 hitting the country hard, about 11,025 women experienced different types of domestic violence during the country's shutdown during May. During a press conference on "Violence against women and children: the Covid-19" on June 10, 2020, MJF said, in May that a total of 13,494 children and women were subjected to a violent incident in 53 districts of the country. MJF added that 4,160 victims stated that for the first time in their life there were violent crimes, 2841 of which were women and 1,319 children.
“I believe the real picture is much more horrifying. We could not reach out to women who do not own phones since it was a telephonic survey”, said Shaheen Anam, Executive Director of MJF.
The worldwide scenario at a glance
The UN has described the global increase in domestic violence as a "shadow pandemic" alongside Covid-19. It is suspected that after the lockdown, domestic violence increased by 20% because more people became confined with their abusers at home.
According to the data in The Daily Star, the warning signs were first seen in China with more than triple incidents of domestic abuse. In Singapore (33%), Australia (40% increase), Brazil (40% increase), and India (100% increase), there was also a similar trend. As the pandemic is extended to Europe, the "ghost pandemic" is rising in Italy (13.6%), Spain (18%), France (30% increase) or Cyprus (30% rise). The pandemic has also expanded in Europe, and has been dubbed "domestic abuse." The United Kingdom recorded a 25 % increase and the US saw a 35% rise.
Reasons behind the increase in domestic violence
1. Lack of income and social interaction
According to Deutsche Welle (DW), Arpita Das, a coordinator at the MJF said, "The women, who faced domestic violence for the first time, blame the lockdown for their situation. They say that their husbands are becoming increasingly frustrated at home due to a lack of social interaction," She added, "Men are angry about losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Some are venting their frustration by torturing their wives," Shaheen Anam, executive director of the MJF said, "Tensions are growing within families. Men are not working, they can't go out to meet their friends," Office going people may face reactive depression from sitting at home, which can lead to stress, frustration, and anger. It is often found that stressed men release their frustration on the weaker members of their family — women, and children.
In the case of domestic migrant women workers, near 94% of workers in Dhaka have suffered domestic violence for the lack of income during a pandemic, according to a study by Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra. The study consisted of 154 families from low-income urban areas from March-April 2020. Much of women (88%) worked at informal employment, such as domestic aid, road sellers, and cleaners, while the remaining 12% worked at the garment industry. Survey respondents reported that their husbands were torturing them because of the mental stress of their absence from their regular involvement in drug addiction and gambling; followed by economic insecurity caused by job losses. Additional financial pressures arising from higher unemployment, pay cuts, full-time care of children, and increased household work add to the harm.
2. Hard to get support
The lock-down in Bangladesh in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has largely broken up support networks, making help and escape for victims much harder. Not just that women are more susceptible to household abuse but also less likely to make an emergency telephone call in fear of being overheard by abusers is an immediate effect of being confined to the abuser. The abusers tend to watch over their victims and prevent warning others about the violence by terrifying them.
In times like this, it is possible that victims would not receive much support from support groups and police and they will be asked to tolerate violence on account of this lockout period. The pandemic is expected to be devastating, and law enforcement authorities are overwhelmed. Delays mean that irreparable damage has already occurred, as in the reaction to the virus itself. The recent media coverage of people on the streets who had been beaten and punished by the police and the military can also deter victims from reporting. Moreover, Police officers refuse to take the case of domestic violence until there is serious physical abuse or dowry abuse.
Home quarantine ensures that children are more accessible and closer to family members and that distant families living with them can be included in Bangladesh. Stressed parents can punish their child unreasonably physically. Kids can be forced to play with these family members or household staff, who may be potential abusers. Such children have no place to hide or run, so their violence will not be reported immediately. Moreover, women face increased work pressure with home quarantine. When an exhausted woman dares to deny advances to her husband during the night, she may be at risk of unwanted sex. And because of our colonial laws, coercive sex cannot legally be known as marital rape.
3. Social mindset
Our social mindset is another reason. Many people in Bangladesh think domestic violence is a private affair. It should not be brought into public. Whatever may be the case is, it should be solved within the boundary of the home. Publicizing or complaining of domestic violence is often regarded as a matter of shame and disgrace especially for women. Therefore, the home quarantine can be a double-edged sword for women and children in Bangladesh.
4. Media framing of Domestic Violence
A report in Dialogue, an online international publication, indicated that the media stereotype of domestic violence during lockdown is false and negative. The study concluded that it is important to figure out that more people do not become aggressive or violent during the lockdown, but women who are still victimized are most frequently targeted by their husbands, and the media must make this difference. The newspapers also referred to domestic violence murders as "coronavirus murders." This has served to construct a narrative that the virus is to blame for these murders, and that, under normal circumstances, such murder would not happen. Therefore, this interpretation is incorrect and negative.
Current law and legal support against domestic violence
In 2000 Bangladesh enacted the Women and Children Violence Suppress Act which aims at kidnapping, trafficking, and rapes. in 2010 another law was passed named domestic violence (Prevention and Protection) Act which criminalizes domestic violence. The Domestic Violence
Act indicates that women suffering from violence may be compensated. They can also live in that residence until the issue is settled.
We do have a national helpline for harassment against women and girls, 109. It's available
24/7 in all parts of Bangladesh. This 109 service, which is free of charge, provides legal assistance, police assistance, and telephone guidance and support.
A group of legal aid experts and human rights activists has proposed the introduction of virtual courts for the prevention of violence against women during the COVID-19 in Bangladesh in an online vision exchange meeting, jointly organized by the Citizens' Initiative against Domestic Violence (CIDV) and Rape Law Reform Coalition. They recommended that online cases and virtual courts be introduced. On 7 May 2020, the Prime Minister signed an ordinance that allowed courts to perform digitally The proceedings.
Because of the current COVID 19 lockout situation, legal assistance and counseling at government and non-governmental levels, on the social media, on the internet, and mobile phones, should be provided to women and children victims of domestic violence. women’s rights activists, lawyers, and legal aid workers have highlighted the following recommendations in order to fight against domestic violence during this COVID 19 lockdown:
1. Law enforcement authorities should take prompt and appropriate measures by investigating reports while protecting the security and protection of victims. Female officers should be given preferential treatment to deal with cases of domestic violence. A ‘women’s desk’ should be installed at every police station to ensure that victims of domestic violence receive assistance on a priority basis.
2. Because of the lockdown, all domestic violence cases across the nation should be brought within the scope of the proposed virtual court, and steps needed to provide urgent protection should be taken through it.
3. We need more responsive emergency helpline numbers in this pandemic situation because the risk of house violence is high and the victims are at the risk of arriving at the police station in person. It is also important to develop Web sites and applications that will support victims of domestic abuse quickly if they are not in a position to talk.
4. Law enforcement agencies need training and resources in emergency situations particularly as women who are trapped and checked at home have extreme difficulty reaching out for aid.
5. In this moment of crisis, the media can play a major role. The media can make an announcement to increase public awareness. In addition, they can share information on contacting the police via hotlines. TV channels can also place scroll information. Mobile companies can send their customers a message to raise awareness of domestic violence.
6. The government can also provide secure shelter for those who experience domestic violence so that they can receive safety during this crisis in Covid-19.
7. In this period the issue should be handled with extreme importance and urgency if marginalized people, especially women with disabilities, women, and children from difficult areas and in the Rohingya community are the victims of violence.
8. A light-touch intervention, such as less regular community meetings and check-in, will reduce the abusive behavior of the intimate partners in rural and remote areas of Bangladesh, where ownership of mobile is uncommon or is restricted to men. In such areas, they will be caught if it's abusive. Such programs are also fairly cost-effective and could be lifesaving measures in this lockdown.
It's painful for anyone to be left at home because of coronavirus, but that is a serious problem for domestic violence victims. Therefore, to win over the immediate and long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic, women, children, and anyone vulnerable to violence needs a vital safety net.
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