Domestic Violence cases increase during lockdown

Since the national lockdown, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) has been receiving calls through the toll free helpline number 1098 both from the capital and the Dzongkhags and Thromdes.

NCWC Director, Kunzang Lhamu said a total of 285 calls were received over the Toll Free Helpline 1098. 

The number of Domestic Violence (DV) cases responded to over the toll free totaled to 75 calls from which around 7% were from men.

She said they have received cases from Phuentsholing, Mongar and other dzongkhags but no cases have been reported from Thimphu so far.

A total of 20 cases were received during the lockdown period from 11th August till date. However, the victims were not all women as 15% of the cases related to Men in Difficult Circumstances (MIDC).

Most of the cases received by the NCWC during the lockdown period were domestic violence cases particularly emotional, physical and economic abuse.

Most of the Domestic Violence cases received at the NCWC during the lockdown period relate to low income households who sustain their livelihoods through daily wages which indicate that the stress created by economic insecurities has a strong relation to the occurrence of domestic violence.

NCWC also received 59 (21%) calls over the Toll Free Helpline regarding stranded cases and other calls were related to mother and child health, sexual and reproductive health, general health related enquiries and lockdown related information.

During the assessment, the NCWC learned that most of the clients have been sustaining through daily wages. The frustration of not being able to work and provide necessities for the family has been cited as one of the major causes of domestic violence.

The extensive abuse of alcohol has been cited as a key trigger for physical abuse which also leads to all the other forms of violence. NCWC has facilitated detoxification and psychosocial support with the help of the Psychiatric Department of the JDWNRH.

She said all cases are recorded in the Central Management Information System (CMIS) and are managed as per the SOP on case management for women and children in difficult circumstances and the SOP on Gender Based Violence.

These SOPs have provided a standard and coordinated approach to case management and a uniform understanding amongst all the service providers involved.

Further, cases concerning children in difficult circumstances are mainly with regard to neglect and physical abuse.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic there is an increase in DV related cases and besides receiving complaints from the clients themselves, cases are being referred through the toll free helpline from other service providers such as health, police and dessung personnel and the Dzongkhag and Thromde Women and Children Committees (D/TWCCs). From the information gathered it is very obvious that DV cases have increased during the pandemic compared to other times, said Kunzang Lhamu, NCWC Director.

She said the rising number of sick people, growing unemployment, increased anxiety and financial stress, and a scarcity of community resources have set the stage for an aggravated domestic violence crisis. Many victims find themselves isolated or trapped in violent homes, without access to resources and services or friends and family networks. Abusers could experience heightened financial pressures and stress, increasing their consumption of alcohol or drugs.

The NCWC has been receiving cases through the toll free helpline 1098. The NCWC Protection Officers have been going to the scene to conduct assessments and to provide immediate support.

The Office of Gyalpoi Zimpon has provided substantial support to the NCWC by providing basic necessities and rations for the socio-economically vulnerable clients. The NCWC has been monitoring the cases and also working with relevant CSOs like RENEW and Nazhoen Lamtoen to provide shelter services to the women and children in difficult circumstances. In most of the cases, children are victims of abuse and neglect owing to alcoholic or incapacitated parents.

She said currently the main challenge is faced with regard to clients who are homeless and mentally challenged. The lack of specialized services and facilities like shelters for such vulnerable groups have hampered the provision of adequate and appropriate services to the most needy.

One of the key triggers of domestic violence at home is due to addiction to alcohol and tobacco. The current economic situation and its impact on the socio-economically disadvantaged sections of the population, closure of schools, restrictions and lockdown has further increased tensions and pressures within the family, leading to violence and abuse.

The NCWC has provided individual case management services through its Protection Officers and provided mobile numbers (public notice, social media and website) that can be contacted 24/7. The Toll Free Helpline 1098 is also available 24/7 whereby the Protection Officers receive the case over the phone and facilitates necessary support such as counselling, referral to relevant agencies, facilitating shelter services and provision of basic necessities, legal guidance and reintegration services.

NCWC Director Kunzang Lhamu said Domestic Violence cases have increased during the pandemic as compared to other years. The reasons pertain to restricted movements, school closures, remote working arrangements, increased household care responsibilities and unpaid care work amongst many others.

The root cause for violence is attributed to the lack of adequate economic security with the triggering factor of alcohol abuse and the imbalance of power relations within the household. Gender Based Violence refers to any harmful act perpetrated against a person’s will that is based on gender differences and inequalities.

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