Bangladesh – Dowry-Related Violence
Author: Womens UN Report Network
Date: July 22, 2005
Dowry Violence Continues Unabated
Most cases of dowry-related violence go unreported
DHAKA, 11 September 2009
(IRIN) – When parents in Bangladesh fail to come up with a promised dowry for
their newly married daughters things can get nasty.
“He started beating me,” 22-year-old Shopna Rani said of
her new husband, just hours before dying of her injuries at a Dhaka hospital:
Her parents had reneged on a promise to pay the dowry.
According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource
Centre (ALRC), such cases in
Bangladesh are nothing new.
“This is a social cancer. It continues unabated and
everybody suffers,” Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, an ALRC programme officer, told
Dowry-related violence – including torture, acid attacks
and even murder and suicide – also stigmatizes women, the group says.
In the first half of 2009, 119 cases of dowry-related
violence, including 78 deaths, were reported, said Ain O Salish Kendro (ASK), a local NGO working
for human rights.
In 2008, 172 women were killed and the figure for 2007
was 187, ASK said, adding that there were at least five reported cases of women
committing suicide in the first half of this year when dowries went unpaid.
“There are terrible stories of suffering,” Ashrafuzzaman
said, adding that the problem is more prevalent in poverty-afflicted rural
parts of the country. Dowry payments – ranging from hundreds to thousands of US
dollars – can impoverish a girl’s family overnight.
According to a study (see an abstract here)
by Peter Davis, a former lecturer at the Centre for Development Studies at Bath
University in the UK, dowry payments of more than 200 times the average daily
wage and costly medical expenses are major causes of chronic poverty.
“Some families face a ‘double whammy’, having to pay
wedding expenses and dowry for their daughters at the same time in life as
elderly relatives are needing more expensive medical care,” said Davis, who
spent several months in the country conducting interviews with families for the
But according to Ashrafuzzaman, it is not just the poor
who are suffering.
Girls, regardless of their education or social standing,
have little choice but to provide a dowry. Most marriages do not take place
until details of the dowry are finalized and agreed, say activists.
In 1980, Bangladesh banned dowries, and sanctions were
imposed: Those taking or demanding a dowry face imprisonment, a fine, or both.
But the practice continues.
“In some cases, the law is effective and in some cases
it is not. Mainly for lack of cooperation from the family members, women do not
get the required support from the law,” Sara Hossain, a prominent lawyer and
human right activist, told IRIN.
Others blame the government. “Of course there is a law,
but this law has been ineffective given the dysfunctional nature of the
country’s judicial system,” Ashrafuzzaman said, noting how perpetrators often
pay off officials to avoid arrest.
“They manipulate the system and ultimately the problem
continues,” he said.
Some NGOs like ASK and the Bangladesh Legal Aid and
Services Trust (BLAST)
offer victims legal support, but many victims do not want it.
“Some victims do not want to continue the legal battle
against their husbands for fear of their husbands,” Elina Khan, executive
director of Bangladesh Manabadhikar Bastobayan Sangstha (BSEHR), a local NGO
working for human rights, told IRIN.
As most victims come from poorer families, losing the
shelter of the husband’s home can be a particularly frightening prospect.
Asked how best to combat the problem, human rights
activist Hossain cited the need to change the “get rich quick” mentality among
poorer men who use their wife’s parents’ money to better secure their own
“This mentality has to be changed to stop dowry
violence. A mass social awareness campaign can change this mentality,” she
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