Law and Policy regard Dowry-Related Violence

Last updated July 2019

The risk of dowry-related violence against women and girls has long been recognized in international and domestic law. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women identified dowry-related violence as a form of violence against women in 1993.[1] While the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) does not specifically mention dowry-related violence, General Recommendation 19 identified dowry deaths as violence perpetuated by “attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men.”[2] In updating General Recommendation 19, General Recommendation 35 does not make any explicit references to dowry-related violence, though it does impliedly include dowry-related violence in its discussion of harmful practices, noting that harmful practices are “forms of gender based violence against women affected by such cultural, ideological and political factors.”[3]

Domestic response to dowry-related violence has largely occurred in the form of legislation either limiting or banning dowry exchange. India instituted the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, which penalizes giving, taking, or demanding dowry.[4]  The Indian Penal Code criminalizes dowry death, “where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage.”[5] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, passed in 2005, defines domestic violence as any conduct that “harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry.”[6] However, India’s laws have been criticized for being ineffective; while statistics show that India’s police have charged 93% of those accused in dowry-related murders, only a third of those have resulted in convictions.[7]

Like India, Bangladesh criminalizes both the giving and receiving of a dowry.[8] However, dowry-related violence is still widespread in Bangladesh. In examining the ineffectiveness of the law, one scholar argued, “the law’s failure to recognise a number of crucial aspects of dowry—including a range of serious flaws in the Act and the ‘softness’ of the current enforcement procedure—significantly contributes to the nourishment of dowry.”[9]

The law in Pakistan takes a different approach by limiting the amount of money or the value of goods that can be given as dowry.[10] However, this approach has been criticized as well. Following the dowry-murder of a woman by her in-laws in 2015, one Pakistani advocate wrote, “The practice of giving dowry is rampant in our society and has to an immense degree distorted the natural order of things; its unfettered and unregulated growth has led to bringing forth myriad of social ills and abetting of heinous crimes against women.”[11] The advocate further noted that the law in Pakistan had become “impotent due to its static and rigid nature.”[12]

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] G.A. Res. 48/140, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, art. 2(a) (Dec. 20, 1993).

[2] Convention for the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Recommendation 19, ¶ 11 (1992).

[3] Convention for the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Recommendation 35, ¶ 14 (2017).

[4] The Dowry Prohibition Act, No. 28 of 1961, art. 3–4, India Code.

[5] Punishment of Dowry Death (Section 304-B), Pen. Code (1890) (India).

[6] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, No. 43 of 2005, art 3(b), India Code.

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

[8] The Dowry Prohibition Act, No. XXXV of 1980 (Bangl.).

[9] Afroza Begum, Dowry in Bangladesh: A Search from an International Perspective for an Effective Legal Approach to Mitigate Women’s Experiences, 15 J. Int’l Women’s Studies 249, 250 (2014).

[10] The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, No. 43 of 1976 Pak. Code.

[11] Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi, Dowry Abuse: Rigid Law and Apathy of Lawmakers, Pakistan Today (Oct. 11, 2015),

[12] Id.