Dowry-Related Violence

Last updated February 2019

Dowry-related violence is a serious problem that affects the lives of women and girls. Dowry includes gifts, money, goods, or property given from the bride’s family to the groom or in-laws before, during or any time after the marriage. The rate that a family pays in dowry can carry significant symbolic weight where the “greater the dowry results, better the status in the family.”[1] However, while providing a large dowry may act as a status symbol, it primarily serves to commodify women, equating their worth as a human being to the value of the dowry. The value of the dowry is often linked not only to the family’s social status, but also to a woman’s physical looks and education. Effectively, dowry dehumanizes women by treating them as chattel.

Dowry-related violence often arises when the groom or his family seeks continued payments or more goods and the bride’s family is unable or unwilling to pay. The U.N. 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.”[2] While dowry is practiced in many different of the world, dowry-related violence is most prevalent in South Asia, in the nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The most common forms of dowry-related violence are physical violence, marital rape, acid attacks, and wife burning (where a woman is covered in kerosene or some other accelerant and deliberately set on fire).  Perpetrators may also use other methods of coercions, including 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.[3]

Survivors of dowry-related violence often require similar services as survivors of domestic violence. These women require transport to shelters, emergency services, support programs, health and medical care, and legal assistance.


Calculating the exact numbers of victims of dowry-related violence is often difficult. Due to fear of retaliation, women subjected to dowry-related violence are hesitant to report the violence to legal authorities. Further, 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 over-concern for the perpetrator, 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 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 for giving a dowry. Underreporting of dowry-related violence is further complicated when such deaths or injuries are misrepresented as merely kitchen accidents or suicides.[4]

Despite the difficulties in discerning concrete statistics on the rates of dowry-related violence, the acts of violence and deaths that are reported provide some insight. The Indian National Crime Records Bureau reported 7,621 “dowry deaths” in 2016.[5] While this represents a decrease from the 8,455 deaths officially reported in 2014, it still amounts to approximately 20 deaths per day. However, as one Indian doctor noted, “since social and cultural taboos discourage women from reporting cases, the [reported number of] cases represent only the tip of a predominantly submerged iceberg.”[6] A social worker working with the Indian women’s rights organization Vimochana told reporters, “thousands of cases each year are recorded as accidental deaths, or suicide. We estimate that the real number of deaths each year is up to three or four times the official statistics.”[7]

Although the majority of reports involving dowry-related violence are found in India, organizations and government agencies in other countries have gathered statistics on the violence as well. For example, in Bangladesh, statistics gathered by two human rights organizations indicate that more than 300 “dowry related incidents” occurred in 2017.[8]

Drafting Laws on Dowry-Related Violence

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created a section of materials on drafting laws on dowry-related violence for UN Women’s Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at

Throughout this section on Drafting Laws on Dowry-Related Violence, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice. Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/149 and 63/168 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

[1] Sadia Gondal, The Dowry System in India: Problem of Dowry Deaths, 1 J. Indian Stud 37, 37 (2015).

[2] U.N. Division for the Adv. of Women, Good Practices in Legislation on ‘Harmful Practices’ Against Women 20 (2009).

[3] Varsha Ramakrishnan, A Broken Promise: Dowry Violence in India, Johns Hopkins Public Health, Fall 2013, at 38.

[4] Amrit Dhillon, ‘Death by Dowry’ Claimed by Bereaved Family in India, Guardian (July 18, 2018),

[5] Nat’l Crime Records Bureau, Crime in India 2016: Statistics 4 (2017).

[6] Varsha Ramakrishnan, A Broken Promise: Dowry Violence in India, Johns Hopkins Public Health, Fall 2013, at 38, 40.

[7] Jason Koutsoukis, India Burning Brides and Ancient Practice is on the Rise, Sydney Morning Herald (Jan. 21, 2015),

[8] Johura Akter Pritu, Domestic Violence Against Women Continues, Dhaka Tribune (July 3, 2018)