Causes and Risk Factors
There are a number of factors that contribute to the occurrence of dowry-related violence, including the subordination of women, impunity for perpetrators, and a lack of awareness. Dowry-related violence occurs when a husband, ex-husband, or his family is dissatisfied with the dowry provided by the bride’s family. B.D. Prasad in his work Dowry-Related Violence Towards Women - Some Issues explains that this may occur if the bride’s parents do not meet the bridegroom’s family’s demands for dowry, if a portion of the dowry is withheld, or if the dowry is in some other way viewed as insufficient. For example, delayed payment is cited among the primary causes of dowry-related violence.
 
The practice of dowry has cultural and historical origins. The original purpose of a dowry was to ensure that a new household may be financially stable. Dowry was provided to guarantee wives and children had financial support in the event of a husband’s early death. Another basic function of dowry was to provide an incentive for the husband to treat his wife in a nonviolent and kind manner. The modern practice of dowry has devolved and manifests itself as a system based on emotional, physical, and financial abuse fueled by greed and extortion.
 
Certain factors increase a woman’s risk of being affected by dowry-related violence. Women who are young and dependent find themselves at an increased risk in the early years of a marriage. Alternatively, educated women may be less at risk of becoming dowry victims, often because education is closely related to socioeconomic status and independence. From: Dowry-Related Violence Towards Women – Some Issues, Indian Journal of Social Work (July 1988). Economic hardship affects a woman's ability to leave a violent relationship.
 
 
Subordination of Women
 
Dowry-related violence, like domestic violence, is primarily based on the subordinate role women have traditionally held in public and private life. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women describes violence against women as "a manifestation of historically unequal power relationships between men and women." Violence is used to perpetuate and enforce women's subordinate role. Perpetrators of dowry-related violence exert power and control over the woman in order to extort money and to oppress her. The act of this violence also communicates that a woman is not valuable in and of herself, that her value is determined and defined by her dowry. UNICEF's, Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls, 6 Innocenti Digest 1, 7 (2000), provides an extended discussion of some of the cultural, legal, economic, and political factors that help perpetuate violence against women.
 
Women who live in cultures where a traditional family structure is encouraged are often at an increased risk for dowry-related violence. Stereotypes about the "proper" roles and responsibilities of men and women in the family reinforce the view that the family is a self-contained unit, deserving privacy at the expense of other rights and freedoms. Traditionally, women are relegated to subordinate positions in this family structure. For victims of violence, this notion of family privacy often interferes with effective police intervention and prosecutorial decisions in domestic violence cases. See: Domestic Violence, StopVAW. Police will frequently view situations of dowry-related violence as a private matter and will not interfere with violence, creating a culture of impunity. 
 
 
Impunity and Failure to Implement Laws
 
Impunity, or the failure to bring violent offenders to justice, perpetuates the violence and subordination which leads to dowry-related violence. Such impunity stems from a general underreporting of the crimes, a lack of prosecution, and a general lack of awareness. Another contributing factor to the culture of impunity is the difficulty to discern between a true and voluntary gift and a demanded dowry.
 
Some nations have created laws to criminalize dowry violence and facilitate in prosecuting perpetrators of such violence. The Indian government amended its Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes and passed the Dowry Prohibition (amendment) Act of 1984. This act recognized dowry-related violence and also expanded the definition of dowry. The legislative intent was to deter future acts of violence; however, authorities explain the legislation has not been successful as a deterrent. Some experts note that legislation and state intervention alone will not end the violence. Additional social pressures must be exerted to prevent future incidents of violence. From: Dowry-Related Violence Towards Women – Some Issues, Indian Journal of Social Work (July 1988).
 
In the countries which have laws criminalizing dowry-related violence, general underreporting of crimes facilitates impunity. Women are often hesitant to report threats and violence to law authorities or officials for fear of retaliation against their families or themselves. Families will often not report a dowry-related death for fear of being implicated in the violence. Low reporting rates are also a result of concern for the perpetrators, shame or stigma associated with being a victim, and a belief in the futility of the complaint mechanism. Underreporting the prevalence of dowry-related violence is further complicated when the dowry-related deaths or injuries are presented as merely kitchen accidents or suicides. If a report is made, police may fail to take an action, granting the violent offender protection within his family unit. 
 
In some nations, the existing law may discourage women from reporting incidents of violence, particularly where it penalizes both the recipient and the giver of dowry. In countries that have a legislative policy prohibiting the practice of dowry, such as India, seeking police involvement could result in the woman’s family, as the givers of the dowry, being criminally charged or incarcerated. Laws should focus on penalizing the recipients, rather than the givers, who may feel coerced into giving into dowry demands as a way of protecting the woman from further harm.
 
 
Lack of Awareness
 
Lack of awareness also augments the culture of impunity. By failing to recognize isolated incidents of violence as a trend, dowry-related violence is perceived as isolated events, and not a problem on which the state must intervene. A recent growth of awareness of this human rights violation has resulted in an increased number of educational campaigns and organizations aimed towards ending the violence throughout India. From: Partha Banerjee, A Matter of Extreme Cruelty: Bride Burning and Dowry Deaths in India, in Injustice Studies, Vol. 1 (November 1997); Charlotte Bunch, The Intolerable Status Quo: Violence against Women and Girls, in UNICEF’s The Progress of Nations (1997); Bringing A Women’s Rights Perspective to Law Enforcement, UNIFEM (1 December 2003). In communities where this response is lacking, there have often been conflicting responses which undermine efforts to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.