Domestic violence likely to increase if the COVID-19 situation prolongs

Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) has recorded 13 cases of domestic violence in March. The victims are 11 females and 2 males between 20 to 40 years of age.

Earlier in the year, 4 cases were reported in January and 11 cases in February in Thimphu. There are 7 cases reported in April so far, where 5 females and 2 males had to endure domestic violence.

Thimphu police said the domestic violence cases involve mostly the financially disadvantaged married couples. Majority of the victims are women and only about 4 percent are men. 70 percent of domestic violence cases are committed under the influence of alcohol, and some are caused by extra-marital affairs and other domestic unrest.

Domestic violence has increased globally due to lockdown caused by COVID-19.  Thimphu Police point out that couples staying indoors in self-isolation due to the COVID-19 situation can lead to more cases of domestic violence in Bhutan.

Deputy Chief Counselor of the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), Yeshey Lham, said Bhutan has, luckily, not come to the point of lockdown, but follows social distancing and self-isolation. However, NCWC is worried about the possible silent victims of domestic violence.

NCWC has been receiving cases in a normal trend but there has been no official complaint on domestic violence due to covid-19, besides some inquiry calls on COVID-19. NCWC is maintaining contact with the callers in case they are victims calling for help, but are too afraid or fearful to seek direct help as the abuser could be monitoring them indoors.

She said if the country goes into a lockdown then it will be difficult to access medical service and other services in the country. Financial crisis and isolation during COVID-19 can increase the domestic violence cases.

“The COVID-19 situation might make it worse for the victims who experience the reoccurrence of domestic violence at home. And also e-Learning has given a lot of pressure on the children and frustration to the working women, especially single parents. All schools and ECCDs are closed down. This might also lead to the mothers being stressed out, and work from home isn’t a free time,” said the Deputy Chief Counselor, adding that parents can be emotionally drained and exhausted.

She said that parents that fight or quarrel on a regular bases at home will affect the wellbeing of their children. The children will be traumatized if they witness violence frequently.

“The children might be disturbed which might bring negative consequences for the children’s wellbeing and development. COVID-19 break would hit hard on the women and children,” she added. Abusers might also take advantage of such a situation to inflict pain on the victims, especially the ones economically dependent on the abusers.

Therefore, NCWC is prepared to provide its services to anyone in need of it, especially during these trying times.

In the last two years, NCWC received more than 371 cases of domestic violence nationwide. It includes women in difficult circumstances, children in difficult circumstances and children in conflict with law.

NCWC received 166 cases in 2018. There were 205 cases in 2019 although the figures are bound to be higher as NCWC did not receive the annual reports from all the dzongkhags. There are also some cases that are directly reported to Royal Bhutan Police, RENEW and other relevant service providers. It was found that Thimphu has the highest number of domestic violence cases.

NCWC also gets high numbers of women and children on emotional abuse cases , followed by physical abuse, and child neglect cases.

Yeshey Lham said NCWC receive the cases through its toll free number 1098 and through walk-in reports to the office. There is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for women and children in difficult circumstances and children with conflict with law. SOP takes very good care of the sequence of the services once the women and children are in contact with NCWC, she added.

NCWC determines the situation of the child or woman for any cases. And as per their survey, women are always the victims. It is very important to understand the underlying issue while counseling the victims. Therefore, visiting the victim’s home environment, assessing the health condition and family support contribute to making a comprehensive assessment, said Yeshey Lham.

She pointed out that some women who suffer repeated domestic violence are not able to express themselves because they think there is no way out of the abuse and violence and for various reasons. A survey done a few years ago found that 74 percent of women accept domestic violence. But with increased advocacy and services, the figure has dropped to 54 percent. NCWC is working to bring down the figures to an acceptable level.

Meanwhile, the women and children committees at the dzongkhag and thromde levels are taking care of issues related to women and children in their respective communities and dzongkhags.

NCWC will be continuously providing uninterrupted services to women and children who face domestic violence in homes. The NCWC toll free number is 1098.

By Usha Drukpa

The writer is a Senior Reporter with the paper

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