Dowry Deaths

Dowry deaths are deaths of married women who are murdered or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by their husbands and in-laws over a dispute about their dowry, making the women’s homes the most dangerous place for them to be. Dowry deaths are found predominantly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran.

India reports the highest total number of dowry deaths with 8,391 such deaths reported in 2010, meaning there are 1.4 deaths per 100,000 women. Female dowry deaths account for 40 to 50 percent of all female homicides recorded annually in India, representing a stable trend over the period 1999 to 2016. Adjusted for population, Pakistan, with 2,000 reported such deaths per year, has the highest rate of dowry death at 2.45 per 100,000 women.

Dowry death is considered one of the many categories of violence against women, alongside rapebride burningeve teasingfemale genital mutilation, and acid throwing.

Dowry deaths relate to a bride’s suicide or killing committed by her husband and his family soon after the marriage because of their dissatisfaction with the dowry. It is typically the culmination of a series of prior domestic abuses by the husband’s family. Most dowry deaths occur when the young woman, unable to bear the harassment and torture, commits suicide. Most of these suicides are by hanging, poisoning or by fire. Sometimes the woman is killed by being set on fire by her husband or inlaws; this is known as “bride burning“, and is sometimes disguised as suicide or accident. Death by burning of Indian women has been more frequently attributed to dowry conflicts. In dowry deaths, the groom’s family is the perpetrator of murder or suicide.

India has by far the highest number of dowry-related deaths in the world according to Indian National Crime Record Bureau. In 2012, 8,233 dowry death cases were reported across India. This means a bride was burned every 90 minutes, or dowry issues cause 1.4 deaths per year per 100,000 women in India.

According to a 1996 report by Indian police, every year it receives over 2,500 reports of bride-burning. The Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports that there were 8,331 dowry death cases registered in India in 2011. Incidents of dowry deaths during the year 2008 (8,172) have increased by 14.4 per cent over the 1998 level (7,146), while India’s population grew at 17.6% over the 10-year period. The accuracy of these figures have received a great deal of scrutiny from critics who believe dowry deaths are consistently under-reported.

Dowry deaths in India are not limited to any specific religion.

The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of a dowry, “as consideration for the marriage”, where “dowry” is defined as a gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage. Gifts given without a precondition are not considered dowry, and are legal. Asking or giving of dowry can be punished by an imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of up to ₹5,000 (US$70, £55 or A$100). It replaced several pieces of anti-dowry legislation that had been enacted by various Indian states. Murder and suicide under compulsion are addressed by India’s criminal penal code.

Indian women’s rights activists campaigned for more than 40 years for laws to contain dowry deaths, such as the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 and the more stringent Section 498a of Indian Penal Code (enacted in 1983). Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA), a woman can put a stop to the dowry harassment by approaching a domestic violence protection officer. However, effectiveness of these laws has been questioned.

Although Indian laws against dowries have been in effect for decades, they have been largely criticised as being ineffective. The practice of dowry deaths and murders continues to take place unchecked in many parts of India and this has further added to the concerns of enforcement.

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