COVID-19: Domestic violence spikes, stakeholders call for action

New Delhi, April 7 (IANSlife) India, like many other countries, is in a complete lockdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Not surprisingly, as anxieties rise outside and families are required to stay indoors, pent-up anger and frustration has found a horrifying outlet: Domestic violence.

According to the lastest data released by the National Commission for Women, within a week after the lockdown began on March 24, a total of 257 complaints relating to crime against women, have been received by its Complaint and Investigation Cell.
This data, shows a steep rise during the lockdown, compared with the figures available for the week between March 2-8, that stand at a total of 116 complaints. The cases of domestic violence, specifically, rose to 69 from 30.
Non governmental organisation (NGO) Sakshi, is a partner with Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) in its Mahila Helpline (181) program and are amongst the first responders to calls of distress. The NGO attributes this rise in numbers to the lockdown being akin to captivity for many women.
“The restricted movement due to the lockdown has specially hit the victims of domestic violence as they find themselves trapped in their homes with their abusers. Domestic violence cases have increased since the March 24 lockdown with husbands venting their frustration on wives, who have no escape.”
“Domestic violence is rooted in power and control, and as the lockdown increases a feeling of uncertainty and a lack of control over a man’s life. Men who cannot manage the stress will take it out on their victims; women who were already in an abusive situation will likely find themselves facing more extreme violence, as they can no longer escape by going out nor get a respite as the husband too cannot go out of the house. Women are in close quarters with the abuser,” Dr Mridula Tandon, President, Sakshi NGO told IANSlife.
In humanitarian situations, there is high chances of increase in Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Violence against Women and Children (VAWC), including domestic violence, sexual violence, physical and psychological abuse, trafficking and child marriage/forced marriage, says Radha Chellappa, Save the Children Deputy Director – Poverty and Inclusion.
She adds, “In the lockdown period, as in the present situation, GBV gets compounded, as the perpetrator and the victim, women and children, may be living under the same roof with no place to go. Thus, the victim may be subjected to violence more, throughout the day, (Sexual, physical and psychological) by her intimate partner/husband and his in-laws. Single women, married or dependent (such as widows, critically ill, with disability) upon family members may also be subject to domestic violence by their family members. It is also seen as women who do not have financial security and are depended upon their partners and family members, with no support may bear GBV silently. Women including victims of violence, in normal circumstances tend to form their own support system, and this may not be available during the lockdown period.”
Notably, the data made available by NCW does not include physical visits, postal complaints and calls made on the landline – as they are all temporarily not plying due to the lockdown. Despite that, the spike is all-too-visible.
As per the NGO Population First, the Jagori women’s helpline reported a fall in the number of calls being received probably because of lack of privacy to make a call when the house is full of people.
“Reporting is a challenge during the lockdown period. Women and children may not have privacy or have access to telephone and mobiles to seek help and support from police or helpline numbers. Even if they manage to, with services (medical, legal, psycho-social and NGOs) already at its minimum and service providers themselves under lockdown, it may find be difficult to reach to the victims to provide necessary assistance,” Chellappa said.
Even children experience added violence during this time.
A Save The Children spokesperson said, “Children who already are dealing with stress and social distancing during lockdown, having affected their daily routines, with no access to schools, friends to play or recreation may be growing through immense stress levels. To add, they may further experience immense psychological distress and helplessness seeing their mother or female family members or siblings being subject to violence. Some of the them themselves could be victims of violence. Any form of violence has long-lasting effect on children and their well-being. It may affect their learning ability, confidence, appetite, sense of helplessness, fear, withdrawal symptoms, and lack of sleep.”
Adding, “Some children may also experience serious psychological problems and difficulty in social adjustment throughout their lives. Their mothers and female family members who themselves may need medical and psycho- social support may not be in position to provide proper care to their children. Children, especially boys when they are accustomed to seeing GBV, may use the same when they become adults. The concern is that children may continue to show signs of distress even after the lockdown is removed and things normalise.”
How can things be better?
Those in the local community, who may be aware of the violent deeds, can call the helplines on the woman’s or child’s behalf. Helping frontline services for domestic violence to stay afloat and carry on doing their vital lifesaving work will be key to ensuring that a lockdown for national good does not turn into a disaster for the victims of violence.
The stakeholders called upon the government to continue to create awareness on GBV through various media. Civil society should remain active.
“Online helplines, counseling sessions, neighbourhood support systems need to be created and strengthened to support men and women experiencing stress and depression and for those engaging in aggressive behaviours. The disruption in regular health services to pregnant and lactating mothers and children below 6 years should be minimized,” concludes A L Sharada, Director, Population First.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at