Updated: Aug 26, 2020


The coronavirus is one of the biggest threats that the world is facing, but it’s not the only one. We fail to see another equally dangerous crisis: domestic abuse. Domestic violence is an umbrella term for coercive, controlling or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse faced by an individual from an intimate partner or a family member. The acts that constitute domestic violence may be classified in the following three broad categories:

a. Physical abuse: beating, battering, sexual violence, etc.

b. Mental, psychological or emotional abuse: humiliation, intimidation, etc.

c. Financial or economic abuse: the creation of forced dependence by control of or limiting access to assets or earning potential of the victim, etc.

Contrary to popular beliefs, domestic abuse is prevalent in different forms throughout the classes and not restricted to only the rural areas and poor households. Earlier, the conventional notion that international human rights do not apply to “private” harm was the major hindrance in considering domestic violence as a human rights violation. However, with the passage of time, various international human rights institutions recognized the devastating effects it has on women, children and families, as a result of which, a plenitude of international law instruments now acknowledge it as a human rights violation.

Since the majority of the domestic abuse is gender-based violence towards women, this article restricts its scope to intimate partner violence, with a concentrated focus on India. The article first analyzes the human rights violated by domestic abuse and studies the spike in the number of cases during the lockdown phase. It then explains the remedies available to the victims in the current Indian legal framework and the problems they face in this endeavour. The article concludes by looking into concrete short-term and long-term measures that must be implemented to reduce the menace of domestic violence in India and the world.

Human Rights Violated by Domestic Violence

Contemporary theories have explained that the aim of violence is to establish power and control over another using intimidation and coercion. Domestic violence violates three core fundamental human rights as guaranteed under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: i. right to life (Article 3), ii. right to bodily integrity (Article 3), and iii. the right to be free from inhuman or degrading behaviour (Article 5). In addition, human rights scholars posit that a state is responsible for the violation of human rights in cases of domestic abuse where:

a. State authorities fail to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish the acts of violence against women; and

b. States fail to ensure equal protection of laws for all citizens, i.e. discrimination between the victims of domestic abuse and victims of any other crime perpetrated by strangers.

The UN Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”), in its eleventh session, officially adopted General Recommendation 19 interpreting the CEDAW Convention to have a prohibitive effect on violence against women in public as well as the private sphere of a country. This General recommendation reads as,

“Under general international law and specific human rights covenants, States may also be responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights or to investigate and punish acts of violence, and for providing compensation.”

In addition to the above, Article 2 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women gives an opportunity to the victim of domestic abuse to seek protection on an international forum, when it was denied by her own state. In Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (“IAHRC”) held the United States responsible for violating the human rights of the petitioner by not enforcing the legal protection given to her against her abusive husband. The US police administration failed to prevent the killing of the petitioner’s three daughters by the husband, which prompted IAHRC to recommend reformation of the enforcement of laws to prevent gender-based violence, including domestic violence.

In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, the lockdowns imposed globally have resulted in the shift of the focus of authorities, due to which the human rights of victims are being flouted excessively. The gravity of the situation has risen manifold and needs urgent attention.

Spike in Domestic Violence During Covid-19 Lockdown

In the times of the current pandemic, where unemployment, disease and disappointment are rampant, abusers have more excuses to take their “frustration” out on women. The lockdown has served as the perfect opportunity for the abuser to practice “intimate terrorism” on his partner, which is evident globally, even in developed countries like the United States, France, Russia and Australia. The increase in the number of domestic violence instances globally is so disturbingly drastic that it is being referred to as “the shadow pandemic”.

The lockdown imposed has resulted in an increase of domestic violence incidents reported in India, with a higher effect in red zones as compared to green zones. In the first three weeks of the lockdown, 476 cases were registered online by the National Commission of Women (NCW), as opposed to 365 cases in the three weeks preceding the lockdown. Moreover, between March 25 and May 31 this year, it received 1,477 such grievances as opposed to 607 complaints between March and May last year, recording a more than two-fold increase.

It must be noted that the figures discussed are nowhere close to the actual number of such incidents. As registration of complaints with NCW is done primarily through the online mode, reporting depends on accessibility of the internet, and women with access to <