Dowry related violence could escalate during the pandemic

Dowry system was criminalized in Nepal in 1976 under the Social Practices Reform Act (2033). Illustration: Nepal Live Today

Anushka Nepal

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Though Nepal’s constitution prohibits dowry practices, hundreds of women across the country are still subjected to mental and physical violence and even murdered for dowry. 

According to human rights activists, the violence can further rise during the pandemic as the concerned authorities are less likely to pay attention to the issues as they are focused on pandemic control.  

Marriages are taking place during the pandemic too. Still, for many, it could bring the baggage of trauma they need to face after marriage because of the prevailing dowry system in Nepal, says Rakshya Ojha, Executive Director of ABC Nepal, an organization fighting for human rights. Equal attention should be paid to issues like this, for the victims can be silent sufferers due to the pandemic priorities, Ojha adds. 

Law and numbers

Dowry system was illegalized in Nepal in 1976 under the Social Practices Reform Act (2033). But the practice continued. In 2009, Nepal enacted yet another Evil Social Customs and Practices Abolition Act to outlaw dowry. 

Sadly, violence against women related to dowry practices goes unabated due to poor enforcement of the laws and social and economic issues linked with the tradition.

According to the data provided by Nepal Police, as many as 141 cases of dowry-related violence were reported within the last four years. A total of 58, 32, 32, and 19 cases were reported in the fiscal year 2017/78, 2018/19, 2019/20, and 2020/2021, respectively (the number of the fiscal year 2020/21 includes data as of mid-March). 

Source: Nepal Police

Laxmi Aryal, Senior Program and Training Coordinator at WOREC, who has been working on the anti-dowry campaign, said that these are only reported cases. “Only extreme cases come out. Many other cases have not come to the limelight, leading many girls to live the same traumatic life while culprits walk free,” she said. 

She further added a high risk of these practices increasing during the pandemic because the anti-dowry campaign cannot be continued with the same rigor as in the past leading to the possibility of the cases becoming unnoticed by the authority. 

Complex socio-economic web

Dowry revolves around the complex web of social and economic issues, activists say. 

“We live in a close community because of which many dowry-related crimes are not talked about. Cases of dowry are way higher than what the data shows,” said Aryal. According to her, incidents are not discussed unless they become extreme. She worries that dowry-related violence could worsen because of the loosely monitored situation due to the ongoing pandemic.

Socially, victims are threatened not to seek justice even if they suffer dowry-related violence, Aryal further informed. It is considered a family issue in many communities, and family heads force the victims and other members to keep it secret.

Economically, dowry practices push people to the vicious cycle of poverty, which is also a significant factor for child marriage, informed Ojha.

Dowry practices exist in many forms, and not all those forms are visible, Ojha further mentioned. It exists even among affluent and educated circles but goes invisible or remains undiscussed, she claimed. 

In many parts of the country, girls are not sent to schools because educating a girl child is thought of as a financial burden. According to a UNFPA review on Harmful Practices, girls with lower education are preferred for marriage because it denies them access to resources and protective measures to guarantee their security. 

Activists working against dowry practices say coordinated effort is needed to fight against this social ill effectively.

The Gender Equality Update 25: Covid- 19 and Harmful Practices in Nepal published by UNFPA clearly states that although possible data does not manifest a variance in dowry practices during the pandemic, the loss of livelihoods and income during Covid-19 creates a high possibility of girls getting married younger so that parents can pay less dowry.

It is also possible that girls and women who are already married, especially those who were married young and whose families were not able to pay the expected dowry, will be subjected to domestic violence from their husbands and in-laws, especially if the husbands’ families are also facing financial constraints due to the Covid-19. 

Killed for dowry 

In 2019, Ganga [name changed], a young girl, married Rajesh from Siraha [the groom’s age not mentioned]. In the beginning, everything seemed fine, but soon things started turning ugly. Her mother-in-law wanted her son to go for foreign employment, but he didn’t want to since he had just gotten married.

The mother then started torturing Ganga and blamed her for everything.

Ganga’s family had given Rs 150,000 in cash, a tola (11.66 grams) of gold, and a motorcycle in dowry during the marriage. But the bridegroom’s family had demanded even more—four aanas (around 124 square meters) of land. Ganga’s parents were not able to afford that.

Ganga’s in-laws started to pester her with the demands. Things went worse and worse. And her mother-in-law killed her by slitting her throat at midnight. 

There is a considerable risk of dowry-related violence increasing during the pandemic as most authorities are focused on Covid related problems.

This is one of the many incidents that have occurred in Nepal. Cases become public and are reported only when they are exceptionally vile. There is a considerable risk of these incidents increasing during the pandemic as most of the authorities are focused on Covid related problems.

Together we win

Activists working against dowry practices say coordinated effort is needed to fight against this social ill effectively. Even children have become the victims of this malpractice, facing torture and violence regularly. Girls are taken as a burden because they have to be married off once they grow up, which means a considerable amount of money and property has to be spent for dowry. 

Government agencies, non-government organizations, and civil society should work together to eliminate this deadly trend, says Bimala Khadka, Case Manager at National Women Commission. This constitutional entity works for the promotion and protection of rights of women. Existing laws must also be strictly implemented to reduce such incidents, said Khadka.