Prevalence
Dowry-related violence is a serious problem that affects the lives of women and girls. The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women defines dowry-related violence or harassment as “any act of violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of dowry at any time before, during or after the marriage.” From: Good Practices in Legislation on “Harmful Practices” against Women, UN DAW (2009). 
 
While dowry is practiced in many different parts of the world, dowry-related violence is most prevalent in South Asia, in the nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Similar to acts of domestic violence, the acts used in dowry-related offenses include physical, emotional, and economic violence, as well as harassment as a means to exact compliance or to punish the victim. The most common forms of dowry-related violence are battering, marital rape, acid throwing, wife burning, and other forms of violence. Perpetrators may also use methods of starvation, deprivation of clothing, evictions, and false imprisonment as a method of extortion. They often use violence disguised as suicides or accidents, such as stove or kerosene disasters, to burn or kill women for failing to meet dowry demands.
 
Calculating the exact numbers of victims of dowry-related violence is often very difficult. Under-reporting is the primary cause of the lack of solid data surrounding the violence. 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, belief in the futility of the complaint mechanism, or fear for being blamed for the violence. In some nations, the existing law may discourage women from reporting incidents of violence. In countries that have a strong legislative policy against the practice of dowry, such as India, seeking police involvement could result in the woman’s family being criminally charged or incarcerated. 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.     
 
The Indian National Crime Records Bureau monitors the annual number of dowry-related deaths. Experts consider these reported incidents to be significantly lower than the total number of incidents, which is estimated at close to 15,000 deaths annually. Data from the last eight years shows that reporting levels within India have steadily and slowly increased.
Experts attribute this growth to the increased number of education campaigns throughout both rural and urban areas and the corresponding growing awareness of this human rights violation. 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).
    
Other statistics show more specific forms of dowry-related violence. In 1996, police in India claimed to receive over 2,500 reports of bride-burning, a form of dowry-related violence, annually. From: Bride-burning claims hundreds in India, CNN News (18 August 1996).
 
Dowry is often cited as a cause of domestic violence. 10.2% of reported domestic violence cases in Kerala cited dowry as the leading factor in the violence. From: Domestic Violence Against Women in Kerala, National Commission for Women: India (September 2005). Five women face severe cruelty and violence in their homes every hour. From: Violence Against Women in India: A Review of Trends, Patterns and Responses, International Center for Research on Women (2004).
 
Although the majority of reports involving dowry-related violence involve India, organizations and government agencies in other nations have gathered statistics on the violence as well. Human rights groups in Pakistan note 300 reported deaths annually. From: South Asia Bride-Burning Kills Hundreds, BBC News (27 August 1999).
 
In Bangladesh, 119 cases of dowry-related violence were reported in the first six months of 2009, including 78 deaths. From: Dowry Violence Continues Unabated, IRIN News (11 September 2009): A Wife’s Darkest House: Dowry Violence in Bangladesh, Dispatches International. Ain o Salish Kendra, a legal aid and human rights organization, compiled data on specific manifestations of dowry-related violence. 281 women were physically tortured by their husbands or their husbands’ families and an additional 194 women ultimately died from such torture. Four women were victims of acid throwing. One woman committed suicide to escape from the cycle of violence. From: Women Statistical Chart, Ain o Salish Kendra (2009). These statistics show how diverse the manifestations of dowry-related violence may be.