Criminal Laws

Last updated May, 2010

Criminal Penalties and Procedures

Legislation should provide both a civil remedy and criminal penalties for dowry-related violence. While orders for protection limit the defendant's conduct; criminal sanctions label that conduct as wrong. See: Orders for Protection, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights. Legislation should impose penalties for all acts of domestic and dowry-related violence, including those involving low-level injuries. A 2009 study entitled Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges reported that enhanced penalties significantly reduced re-arrest rates for domestic violence offenses. p. 52

Offenses such as assault, threats of assault, criminal sexual conduct, interference with an emergency call, forced eviction, false imprisonment, and willful deprivation of basic human needs, such as food and clothing when they occur between the woman and her husband or her in-laws all constitute dowry-related violence. Legislation should state that payment of bride price or non-payment of dowry are not defenses to charges of domestic or dowry-related violence. Dowry-related offenses should be non-compoundable and be non-bailable where high-level injuries or lethality indicators are present. Legislation should prohibit the granting of anticipatory bail in these dowry cases.

Legislation should criminalize other acts of violence, such as domestic assault by stove burning and assaults with corrosive or other substances. Legislation should impose higher penalties that reflect the lethality of such offenses. The UN DAW Expert Group Meeting in its report on Good Practices in Legislation on “Harmful Practices against Women” (2009) recommends establishing a specific offence for acid attacks, defining it as “any act of violence perpetrated through an assault using acid,” and criminalizing the unlicensed sale of any type of acid (Sections 3.3.6.1, 3.3.6.2). The report also defines “stove burning” as a case where “a woman is injured or dies as a result of harm inflicted through the use of fire, kerosene oil or other stove-related matter” and recommends establishing a specific crime of stove burning (Sections 3.3.5.1, 3.3.5.2. For example, Bangladesh’s Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000 punishes offences by corrosive or other substances (Article 4).). Minnesota has created a separate offense for domestic violence by strangulation (MN Statute 609.2247), making it a felony.

Legislation should criminalize illegal demands for dowry by making it a specific offense or through an extortion or other clause. India’s Penal Code contains a provision, entitled Criminal Breach of Trust:

“Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, 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, which he has made touching the discharge of such trust, or wilfully suffers any other person so to do, commits "criminal breach of trust.””

Legislation should also create offenses that involve both violence and extortion to reflect the economic nature of dowry-related violence or designate extortion/dowry demands as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes in criminal domestic assault. 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). See: Section on Addressing dowry-related violence through criminalization of dowry demands.