Addressing Dowry-Related Violence through Criminalization of Dowry Demands

Last updated May 2010

Legislation should criminalize demands for dowry carried out with the infliction of injury, grievous injury, death or attempts thereof, or with the threat of injury, grievous injury or death. Drafters should do so either by creating a specific offense of illegal dowry demands or incorporating the offense into existing extortion laws.

Extortion statutes should include provisions that focus both on intentional infliction of fear of injury (emotional distress), as well as actual infliction of injury (physical assault). For example, the Pakistani Penal Code’s chapter on extortion focuses on the intentional infliction of fear of injury to oneself or a third person:

383. Extortion:
Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property or valuable security or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits "extortion".

384. Punishment for extortion:
Whoever, commits extortion shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

385. Putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion:
Whoever, in order to the committing of extortion, puts any, person in fear, or attempts to put any person in fear, of any injury, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

386. Extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt:
Whoever commits extortion by putting any person in fear of death or of grievous hurt to that person to any other, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.

387. Putting person in fear of death or of grievous hurt, in order to commit extortion:
Whoever, in order to the committing of extortion, puts or attempts to put any person in fear of death or of grievous hurt to that person or to any Other, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

India’s Penal Code defines extortion, as intentionally placing one in fear of injury to herself or another: “Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property or valuable security, or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits "extortion" (Article 383). India’s Penal Code similarly punishes extortion through infliction of fear of injury to oneself or a third person as offences against property (Articles 383-86). India’s Penal Code also punishes infliction of injury for purposes of extortion as offences against the human body. Articles 327 states: 

“Whoever voluntarily causes hurt, for the purpose of extorting from the sufferer, or from any person interested in the sufferer, any property or valuable security, or of constraining the sufferer or any person interested in such sufferer to do anything which is illegal or which may facilitate the commission of an offence, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Article 329 states:

Whoever voluntarily causes grievous hurt for the purpose of extorting from the sufferer or from any person interested in the sufferer any property or valuable security, or of constraining the sufferer or any person interested in such sufferer to do anything that is illegal or which may facilitate the commission of an offence, shall be punished with 152[imprisonment for life], or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Legislation should address the difficult task of proving a gift was extorted as opposed to voluntarily given. Legislation should include language defining “voluntarily given” as gifts made without any demand having been made for it or pursuant to any form of coercion, threat, violence, inducement or promise. Legislation should describe gifts that are involuntarily given as those given in response to willful conduct, threats or harassment of a nature that is likely to coerce the woman or her family into satisfying demands for property or valuable security. See: National Commission for Women, Recommendations and suggestions on Amendments to the Dowry Prohibition Act. Imposing ceilings on gift amounts is another option, but may be problematic in societies where income and assets are widely underreported.