Public Awareness and Trainings
- Laws should mandate public awareness campaigns and trainings for different sectors and groups. In particular, legislation should mandate training for religious, customary, community tribal leaders, state-registered preachers and religious officials on women’s human rights, dowry-related violence, domestic violence, and seek their commitment in denouncing violence against women. Legislation should mandate the training of all health professionals, including maternity, obstetrics, gynecology, reproductive health, and medical examiners on women’s human rights, dowry-related violence, domestic violence, and guidelines on how to identify, provide referrals, and sensitively and appropriately treat survivors/complainants of dowry-related violence. Legislation should mandate the training of teachers in primary, secondary and higher education schools to promote women’s human rights and denounce violence against women, including dowry-related violence and deaths. See: UN DAW Expert Group Meeting, Good Practices in Legislation on “Harmful Practices against Women” (2009), Sections 3.2.2, 3.2.3, 3.2.4. Laws should also sensitize the media and journalists on violence against women, including dowry-related violence and deaths. See: UN Handbook, Section 3.5.4.
- Legislation should mandate government support and funding for public awareness activities on violence against women, including dowry-related violence and deaths. The UN Handbook recommends general campaigns to educate the public about violence against women as discrimination and a violation of women’s human rights, as well as specific educational campaigns to increase public understanding of laws and the remedies regarding violence against women (Section 3.5.2).
- In addition to focusing on women’s human rights and dowry, public awareness and trainings should address women’s inheritance and property rights and women’s rights in marriage and at its dissolution.
The Asian Women and Human Rights Council has organized a series of Courts of Women to promote discourse and hear individual testimonies of violence against women and human rights. A planning workshop took place 18 months prior to the court, where participants discussed key issues and identified key participants for further work. The council, along with forty other organizations, held the India Court of Women on Dowry on July 27-29, 2009. The court heard testimony from 25 victims of dowry-related violence from across India. While the court has no legal authority, it was a visible campaign to bring attention to the experiences of victims of dowry-related violence. (See: Asia Women Human Rights Council
; India Court of Women on dowry and violence
, Thaindian News, Sept. 26, 2009)
Addressing Dowry-related Violence through Regulation and Registration of Dowry
- Drafters should provide regulations regarding dowry. Legislation should establish both a marriage registration system and a registration system for gifts made before, at anytime after the marriage from either party’s family to the bride, groom, both bride and groom, and their family members. Both parties should be required to document all gifts received and describe each gift, the value, the date made, the name of the giver, to whom the gift is made, each sign or thumbprint each of the lists, and file the lists with an official office or court authorized to accept these documents. Parties should append any additional gifts or dowry made and received to this record. Legislation should also provide a mechanism for parties to document dowry demands, whether explicit or implicit, and whether and how they were met.
Legislation should ensure that all gifts before, at and anytime after the marriage are recorded in writing. India has developed the Dowry Prohibition (Maintenance of List of Presents to the Bride and Bridegroom) Rules
, which state that all presents given at the time of marriage to either the groom or bride must be listed by each in writing, with a description, an approximate value, the name of the giver and relationship to the parties if applicable, and the signatures of both parties.
CASE STUDY: Both India and Bangladesh have laws that prohibit dowry, but allow for voluntary gifts. For example, Bangladesh’s Dowry Prohibition Act (1980) penalizes both the giver and taker of dowry equally, imposing sentences of one to five years and/or a fine (Articles 3, 4). India’s Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) equally penalizes the giver, taker and abettor of dowry by a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a fine (Article 3). Legislation should penalize the taker and abettor of dowry, but not penalize the giver of dowry. Penalizing the giver may deter victims from reporting the crime or seeking help, particularly where it incriminates the victim’s family members. Parties who are coerced into giving dowry to stop violence against the bride can be held as culpable as the takers who demand the dowry and/or commit violence against the bride. The Lawyers Collective has made legal reform recommendations to India’s dowry law:
The definition of dowry in the Act can be modified to do away with the gender neutral definition of dowry and to benefit the bride and the bride's family. The amended Section 2 should read as- "dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by the bride or the bride's family to the bridegroom or the bridegroom's parents or family at or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage of the said bride and groom but does not include dower or mahr in case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies". Section 3 of the Act could be amended so as not to penalize the giving of dowry but to make punishable the act of taking or abetting the taking of dowry. Section 6 should have a provision for the return of all dowries given by the bride or the bride's family at or any time after the marriage in connection with the marriage.
Apart from the specific changes in the legislation, all the gifts given to the bride, the bridegroom and given jointly to the bride and the bridegroom should be mandatorily registered as per the rules laid down in the Dowry Prohibition Act. A definite exception should be carved out for the genuine gifts given to the bridegroom by the bride or the parents or relatives of the bride. However, such gifts must be of a customary nature and the value of such gifts should not be excessive considering the financial status of the person by whom or on whose behalf such presents are given. All presents given to the bride by the parents of the bride shall exclusively belong to the bride and will be treated as her property. All presents given to the bride by the bridegroom and/ or the family of the bridegroom shall be exclusively treated as belonging to the bride and will be treated as her property. All presents given to the couple jointly by strangers shall belong to the bride and the bridegroom jointly and will be treated as their joint property.
(See: Paroma Ray, Discussions on Dowry, Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative)
- Rather than prohibit dowry, drafters should consider whether to enact legislation that draws upon the outcomes in the dowry prohibition laws. Where there is a finding of domestic violence, extortion, infliction of injury or fear of injury to oneself or a third party to exact dowry, title and ownership of dowry given to the husband or in-laws should shift to the woman victim. In these cases, the recipient of the dowry merely holds the dowry in trust for the woman until its eventual transfer to the woman within a specified time period. Under the Indian Penal Code, a person may be held guilty of criminal breach of trust if he “dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged, or of any legal contract, express or implied…” (Article 405). An accessible dowry registration system and public outreach to facilitate its use would be imperative. Alternatively, drafters should provide for a civil compensation scheme for victims to seek redress where there is a finding of domestic violence, extortion, infliction of injury or fear of injury to oneself or a third party to exact dowry. In cases where the dowry has been sold, depreciated, or exhausted, a civil compensation scheme may be the more realistic option. Again, documentation through a registration system is an important measure for implementation.
Regulation of Acids and Other Harmful Substances
- Legislation should regulate the sale of any type of acid. See: UN DAW Expert Group Meeting, Good Practices in Legislation on “Harmful Practices against Women” (2009), Section 184.108.40.206. For example, Bangladesh’s Acid –Offences Prevention Act 2002 defines acid as “any substances, burner caustic and poisonous” (Article 2(b)). The act punishes inflicting hurt or death by acid, acid throwing and attempts to throw acid, and abetting any of these offenses by imprisonment and a fine (Articles 4-7). Article 9 states that fines garnered from this law are to be remitted to the “successor of the person died [in] consequence of the offence otherwise to the person being injured physically or mentally or to the successor if dead, after realizing it from the person convicted or from his assets or by realizing from the assets left at the time of his death.” The Bangladesh Parliament has also enacted the Acid Control Act (2002), which criminalizes the unlicensed production, import, transport, storage, sale, and use of acid and imposes a prison sentence of 3-10 years. Individuals in possession of the chemicals and equipment for the unlicensed production of acid are subject to the same penalty.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released regulations
to implement new restrictions for products containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine (PPA). These restrictions seek to reduce access to products used to manufacture the illegal drug methamphetamine and may serve as guidance for drafters seeking to regulate other substances. These restrictions apply to all sellers of the products, impose daily and monthly sales limit of the products on sellers, limit monthly purchases for buyers, require sellers to store products in a locked cabinet or behind the counter, and require sellers to maintain a logbook of all sales, including quantity of product and form sold, purchaser name and address, date and time of sale, and purchaser’s signature; the buyer records his or her name and address, date and time of sale, and his or her signature in the logbook.
Example: Under Cambodia’s new acid control law, perpetrators face 10 to 30 years of imprisonment if charged with “torture and cruel acts” using acid, and 15 years to life imprisonment for “intentional killing” with acid. Laws controlling access to acid are still needed to prevent the ease with which acid can be purchased on the street.
See Cambodia’s country page at UNHCR.