Dowry Prohibition Laws in Bangladesh

What is Dowry?

Dowry (yautuka) Yautuka means gifts made at the time of marriage of a girl by her parents, other relations and even by strangers. Thus it is a gift normally voluntarily made by the relations and strangers to a girl at the time of her marriage so that she could use it at her pleasure in her husband's house for her own benefit and welfare. Yautuka is mentioned in the texts of Hindu Law as one of the sources of women's property (stri-dhana) over which a woman has absolute right of disposal without the consent of her husband.

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The term “dowry” is defined as "money or any other asset" demanded by a party as the consideration for a marriage. However, it does not include a dower or mahr, in those cases in which the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) applies to the parties. Nor does it apply to wedding gifts.

Dowry Prohibition Act 1980/Dowry Prohibition Act 2018

In Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980, 'Dowry' is defined as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly by one party to the marriage to the other party to the marriage, or by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person to either party to the marriage or to any other person, at the time of marriage or at any time before or after the marriage as consideration for the marriage of the said parties, but does not include dower or mahr in the case of persons to whom the Muslim Personal Law (shariah) applies. The Act excludes any article valued not exceeding taka 500 presented at the time of marriage by any person other than a party to the marriage.

 Bangladesh Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980

Practice of giving yautuka developed in the Hindu society from time immemorial due to the fact that a female heir could not inherit property from her male relations with the male heirs. But in course of time yautuka turned into and developed first in the Hindu upper- and middle-class society as a burdensome system of realizing property either in cash or in kind or both by the bridegroom or his relations from the bride's parents and guardians as a consideration of the marriage. During the colonial rule no attempt was made to contain or discourage the growing dowry problem by legislation except passing the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act, 1937 by which a Hindu widow is entitled to inherit a share of her deceased husband's property equal to that of a son, and that also in limited life interest and not in absolute right. But after independence from the British colonial rule in India, Hindu Succession Act, 1957 has done away with the traditional Hindu succession system, and now sons and daughters of a deceased Hindu inherit equal share of paternal or maternal property. But in spite of such provision the curse of dowry system has not abated in India. So the Government of India was compelled to enact Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 making demand or acceptance of dowry either before or at the time of or after marriage as consideration of the marriage, as a punishable offence.

The curse of dowry system affected both the Muslim and Hindu society of Bangladesh so much so that it spread from the upper and middle class to the poorest of the poor. So, to contain this social problem in Bangladesh the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980 was enacted which is heavily influenced by the Indian Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.

The Act makes giving or taking of dowry punishable by a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years imprisonment or a fine. The Act provides for the same punishment for demanding dowry as provided for giving or taking of dowry.

Where the definition of dowry in section 2 of the Indian Act of 1961 excludes presents made at the time of marriage in cash, ornaments, clothes or other articles unless made as consideration of marriage by anyone, but the definition of dowry in Bangladesh Act of 1980 excludes the presents made by a person other than the party to the marriage valued not exceeding five hundred takas. Similarly, punishment for giving or taking or demanding dowry is up to six monthly imprisonment or five thousand rupees or both in the Indian Act of 1961 which is much less than the punishment provided in the Bangladesh Act of 1980.

Forms of Violence against Women for Dowry are included as Physical abuse; Sexual abuse; Verbal and emotional abuse; Economic abuse

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980 having failed to prevent the curse of dowry, demand of which led to oppression to the bride including physical torture and even murder government was compelled to enact the Women and Children Oppression (Special Provisions) Act, 1995 providing for penalty for causing simple or grievous hurt as well as attempt to murder and murder of any woman or child over the demand of dowry. But the same having been found not sufficient to combat the menace, the Prevention of Oppression of Women and Children (Deterrent Punishment) Act, 2000 was enacted repealing the earlier one and the same was further amended in 2003. Section 11 of the said Act provides for death sentence for causing murder, imprisonment for life for attempting to murder, imprisonment from five to twelve years for grievous hurt and imprisonment of one to three years for simple hurt over the demand of dowry.

In spite of taking such stringent measures by the government to combat the menace of dowry system the same could not be contained, rather it is going on spreading eroding the economic fabric of its victims and also subjecting the innocent brides to suffer physical torture, at time leading to grievous hurt and murder over the unsuccessful demand of dowry.

Penalty for giving or taking dowry: 3. If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to [five years and shall not be less than one year, or with fine, or with both].

Penalty for demanding dowry: 4. If any person, after the commencement of this Act, demands, directly or indirectly, from the parents or guardian of a bride or bridegroom, as the case may be, any dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall not be less than one year, or with fine, or with both].

Agreement for giving or taking dowry to be void: 5. Any agreement for the giving or taking of dowry shall be void.

Cognizance of offences: 7. Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act V of 1898),- 

(a) no Court inferior to that of a magistrate of the first class shall try any offence under this Act;

(b) no Court shall take cognizance of any such offence except on a complaint made within one year from the date of the offence;

(c) it shall be lawful for a magistrate of the first class to pass any sentence authorised by this Act on any person convicted of an offence under this Act 

The Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Act of 2018

The Dowry Prohibition Act of 2018 (the "Act") of Bangladesh prohibits the giving or receiving of a dowry.  The primary purpose of the Act is to end the custom whereby the bride's family makes a financial payment to the groom's family upon a marriage. The system is now seen to be a “social curse,” which frequently leads to disputes between the families and the harassment of innocent parties.

Section 3 of the Act criminalizes the act of directly or indirectly demanding a dowry, punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and/or a significant fine Section 4 of the Act makes it an offense to give or receive a dowry, or to abet such actions, which is likewise punishable by a fine or imprisonment. Section 2 provides that the parties who may be prosecuted for such actions may include the bride, the groom, their parents or legal guardians, “or any other person directly involved in the marriage” from the side of the bride or the groom.

Section 5 of the Act provides that any agreement for giving or taking of a dowry is void.

In an attempt to limit the number of false cases and harassment of an innocent party, Section 6 of the Act criminalizes filing a false complaint or causing a false complaint to be filed.

Finally, the offenses committed under the Act are “cognizable, non-bailable, and compoundable.” This means that, as a “cognizable” offense, the police may arrest the accused without a warrant; as a “non-bailable” offense an accused does not have an automatic right to be released on bail; and as a “compoundable” offense the parties are allowed to settle the issue outside of court.

It should also be noted that there are additional remedies available in Bangladesh for dowry-related violence, including the “Nari-O-Shishu-Nirjatan-Daman-Ain, 2000” law, which provides severe penalties for any dowry-related offense which causes hurt, grievous hurt or death, and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which defines "domestic violence" as any conduct which harasses, harms, injures, or endangers an aggrieved person, including any act done with a purpose to coerce an aggrieved person to meet any unlawful demand for a dowry.

Effectiveness depends on enforcement

a) The Cabinet has approved the new act of “The Dowry Prohibition Act-2018”. It incorporates the earlier Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980 and subsequent amendments.

b) The Act lays down 14 years' rigorous imprisonment along with fines for any individual or individuals who incite any girl to commit suicide over dowry.

c) It has a provision also for a life term of 12 years for hurting a woman over dowry. That the government has taken cognizance of the fact that dowry is a serious social malady that needs to be tackled with legislation is welcome.

d) However, as pointed out by legal minds, most of what has been proposed in the new Act is already in place under different laws. But it is good that all issues have been brought under a single Act. That said, Bangladesh is a country that has ample laws on paper. It is the lack of enforcement of existing laws that has been the problem. It is our hope that those responsible for upholding the law will utilise this upcoming Act to go after the perpetrators of dowry-related violence.

e) The incorporation of imprisonment and financial penalty, if applied to the full extent of the law should help reduce the thousands of incidents of dowry related violence we are forced to witness every year in both rural and urban Bangladesh. The time is ripe to deliver the message that women cannot be maltreated over dowry that demanding dowry is illegal and only time will tell if the Act is being utilised as it was intended to.

Factors/ Causes of Dowry

1. Poverty is the main causes behind dowry because most of the people in Bangladeshi are poor.  They often take dowry to reduce their Poverty.

2. Because of the Illiteracy, most the people are unaware of effect of dowry.

3. Narrow mentality behind the dowry system.

4. Negative attitude towards the women 

5. Lack of women’s Education in Families is the reason for giving dowry.

6. Lack of decision making power of women’s in family because in Bangladesh families are ruled by father .Because of that the position of woman in a family is much disagreed. 

7. Women are less independent then men. In Bangladesh; most of the women are housewives and have less economic power to control the family. Because of dependency women become a burden in a family. 

8. Some time bridegroom wants money to do business or want to make his life settle with that money.  

9. In a town, people think that giving dowry in a marriage creating more status in society.

Women spend a good life in husband’s house if dowry paid in marriage. 

10. In a village, most of the people think Dowry is their legal right which has to pay the daughter’s family in a marriage.

11. In a village, Poor parents consider any expenses for educating a girl unproductive as she leaves their family after marriage.

12. In the village if brides are not beautiful to look at or if they get late married then they are to give a lot of money as dowry to the bridegroom.

13. The giving of a dower seems to be an established Bangladeshi cultural institution. The wife is expected to bring suitable gifts (monetary or otherwise) with her to her new home or shoshurbari.

14. Dependence on husband and living on their income, social corruption and so on are the main causes of dowry

Effect of Dowry on Economy and Daughter’s family

More than 35 million people in Bangladesh, around a quarter of its population, face acute poverty and hunger. Dowry payments of more than 200 times the daily wage and costly medical expenses are major causes of this chronic poverty says research from the University of Bath. It is the poor who really suffer economically and socially as a result of the practice of dowry. 

1. The custom of paying a dowry to the future husband's family when a daughter is married is illegal in Bangladesh, but is still practiced by most families living in rural areas. Payment is normally upwards from 20,000 Taka and since typical earnings are only 100 Taka (94 pence) per day, this can be a major contributor to poverty for many families with daughters.

2. The trend of rising dowries, commonly referred to as dowry inflation, has received much attention, as payments can represent multiple years' worth of a family's income and often cause severe destitution of households with daughters of marriageable age.

3. Through this custom the bride has to give a large amount of money, furniture, ornaments and many things to the bridegroom. It is a very terrible situation for the society. Women & their family suffer a lot for this dowry system.

4. The money of dowry is often raised by the sale or mortgaging of land at low prices. It also includes livestock, trees, household goods and family jewelry and as well as loans from NGOs and moneylenders at high rates of interest.

Effect of Dowry on Women’s life

Disputes over dowry payments have led to numerous cases of dowry violence against brides, resulting in injuries and even death.

1.       There are many severe consequences resulting from the payment of dowries. First, failure to meet the dowry demands or the new demands often results in verbal and physical abuse of the wife. Physical abuse includes beating; burning with cigarettes, withholding foods, sleep deprivation and denial of medical treatment. The abuse may be meted out by the husband or members of his family, especially his mother. Verbal abuse may include starting rumors about the character or behavior of the wife and often the girls feel unable to disclose the situation to her parents. If the physical abuse continues and worsens, this may lead to the wife committing suicide. 

2.     Additionally, a common result of unmet dowry is sending the girl or woman back to her parents’ house. When this happens every one considers that it must be the fault of the girl or woman saying such things as: She could not adapt to her husband or She cannot look after her husband properly So, once again both the girl and her parents suffer from rumors and criticism. This also affects the reputation of the younger sisters. 

3.     Apart from the social stigma attached to the girls being returned to live with her parents there are other problems. Her brothers and their wives may resent her presence, particularly if she has brought children with her. She is seen as a drain on the household resources and may be verbally, and even physically, abused by her own family.

4.     Dowry-related violence is particularly problematic in Bangladesh. A survey conducted by Naogaon Human Rights Development Associations (NHRDA) revealed that 84% percent of the cases it received in 2000 were dowry related wife battering cases. In 2001, 173 girls and women were killed due to dowry demand with 79 of these victims below the age of 18.

5.     Repression of women for their inability to bring adequate or repeated installments of dowry from their poor parents and resultant deaths or grievous injuries is rather disquietingly frequent. 

6.     It has become very difficult to find a suitable match for a girl without paying handsome dowry. It has soured the relations and there are tensions, ill will and disharmony in the families. Marriage has become a kind of business and exploitation of the parents of a girl. Thus, bridegrooms are bought and sold like commodities and the girls sacrificed on the altar of marriage. 

7.     It is a much-unexpected situation for the bride’s family members. They are to collect a huge amount of money for their daughters or sister’s marriage. Sometime they are to take loan, sell their lands, furniture, ornaments and even their own house to collect the money. They are to lose many things and face many problems for this dowry system.

8.     For this dowry system divorce, doing suicide, mental and physical tortures, number of broken family are increasing day by day. It is also affecting on the new generation. They cannot give attention in their education; can not contribute in any development activities. It hampers their mental development. 

Steps against Dowry system in Bangladesh

Dowry system is against the law of equality of men and women. It is a crime to give and take dowry. But these are openly violated. There are thousands of cases of dowry every year few offenders are actually punished. It shows that laws alone are not enough. Besides laws, we need more social awareness and effective social measures. 

1.       We should create a movement and strong public opinion against the system. The movement should be taken to villages and every nook and corner of the country. 

2.     More leaders, social groups, men and women should be involved in the movement against the evil. People who practice dowry system should be socially boycotted. Women organizations should hold demonstrations against such people.

3.     The registration of marriage should be made compulsory. Young men and women should be made to take a pledge against the evil. Group and community marriages can also help in removing the evil. 

4.     The women should refuse to marry the men who demand dowry. More and more women should be encouraged to take employment and become economically independent. The percentage of literacy among girls and women is very low. This rate should be increased. More schools, colleges and training institution for women should be opened.

There should be free education for women up to the university level. Spread of literacy and education among women can prove a great weapon against dowry.

5.     The women themselves should come forward and fight against the practice of dowry. They should know their rights, privileges and strengths. They should stop thinking in terms of a weaker sex. They should revolt and expose dowry practitioners. They should stand on their own feet and fight for their rights. 

6.     The young men should frankly reject the demand for dowry from their parents. Demand for dowry reduces a party to a status of a beggar. The evil should be fought both on the levels of law and society. A very strong propaganda and movement are needed to eradicate the evil forever.

7.     We should change our outlook, mentality by our Law rules. Narrow mentality of the greedy people should be changed and a hard punishment should be given to them.

8.     But good thing is that, at present our Government is aware about it. Therefore, this system is changing. In the past it was so high in our country. Now we have a law that who will give dowry and take dowry--- all will be known as a criminal. 

Other steps against Dowry

§  Start practising dowry prohibition in your family. 

§  Educate the members of your family with the provisions of laws that demanding and accepting or giving dowry is an offense. 

§  If in any family there is a growing dispute between the in-laws and the lady, try to intervene to sort out the differences and educate them about the evils of dowry system. If they fail to listen to you, please inform the jurisdictional police and counseling centers. 

§  Provide support and shelter to the lady in distress. If you cannot, please contact the Women organizations who can provide support in such cases 

§  Gather like-minded people who are fighting against this evil and gather public sympathy and support to ex-communicate the families where the evil persists 

§  In case you have any suspicion of ill treatment of a lady in any house, immediately inform the local Police. Ladies in distress, generally avoid showing their resentment to ill-treatment till it reaches a dangerous point leading to their being burnt to death 

§  Encourage women folk to raise their voice about their rights and to fight against dowry system.

§  It shows that only law is not enough to protect the women against injustice. It needs social awareness and effective measures. 

§  The registration of marriage should be made compulsory. 

§  The women and their parents should refuse the men who want dowry.

§  Men and women should promise against the dowry system. 

§  We should create a movement and strong public opinion against the dowry system.

§  Besides, government and NGOs should be involved in the movement against the course. 

§  People who practice dowry system should be socially boycotted. 

Dowry is a very harmful system in our country. Because of dowry women are badly treated in their laws house. Sometimes they are killed, injured, abused and so on. We should stop the system for our future success. 

§  To stop this we should telecast the bad effects of dowry in mass media.

§  To increase social value, women’s education, reduce poverty and so on.

§  To ensure the legal action against dowry.

It is a much unexpected situation for the bride’s family members. They are to collect a huge amount of money for their daughters’ or sisters’ marriage. Sometime they are to take loan, sell their lands, furniture, ornaments and even their own house to collect the money. They are to lose many things and face many problems for this dowry system.

We saw that women are tortured when they can not give any money to their husband. Some time we hear and see in the newspaper that some women are killed, some are hung and some are burnt by their husband, in-law’s family members and others.

For this dowry system divorce, doing suicide, mental and physical tortures, number of broken family are increasing day by day. It is also affecting on the new generation. They can not give attention in their education; can not contribute in any development activities. It hampers their mental development. This custom is very disgraceful for our country.

So we should try hard to remove this system from our country. There are some laws to remove it. But we can not apply them properly. We have to try to use these laws properly. There should be more steps on women’s right in our Law system. We should change our outlook, mentality by our Law rules. Narrow mentality of the greedy people should be changed and a hard punishment should be given to them.

Dowry related Statistics in Bangladesh

Dowry practise has severe and alarming consequences, causing physical, mental, and social anguish. Threatening the wife with divorce and returning her to her father's family is a very common practise in Bangladesh if the demand is not met. Verbal abuse is a type of oppression as well. All of this can lead to killings and brutal tortures.

According to the human rights organisation Odhikar, 5,699 women were victims of dowry-related violence between 2001 and 2017, and the rate of dowry-related homicides and suicides has also been high. According to Odhikar, at least 256 women were subjected to dowry-related violence in 2017, and 129 women were killed or committed suicide. Following years of anti-dowry campaigns and related legal reforms, the number of dowry violence incidents continues to rise year after year. The government enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act-2017 to replace the 1980 law, but the number of cases filed remains low when compared to the number of violent incidents. According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), 188 dowry-related cases were filed in the previous year, compared to 303 reported cases of dowry violence. Though the country has made significant progress in women's education and empowerment, data suggests that dowry violence is far from over.

Numerous governments on the subcontinent have attempted numerous measures to combat it, with varying degrees of success, but have been unable to totally eradicate it. According to a survey, over 50% of all violence against women occurs as a result of Bangladesh's dowry culture.

Again, according to media sources, 374 women were murdered in the city for dowry over the last 17 years, until 2019. Each year, 22 women are murdered in Dhaka City for dowry. In 2018, 14 women were murdered in the Dhaka Metropolitan region due to their inability to pay dowry. 13 women were murdered in January and February of last year, while 17 were subjected to physical assault as a result of dowry.

According to Odhikar, there were approximately 5,800 dowry-related incidences of violence against women between January 2001 and December 2019. Additionally, a Bangladeshi human rights group reports that over 3,300 women and girls were murdered during that time period due to dowry disputes. According to Ain O Salish Kendra, there were 73 occurrences of women or girls being physically mistreated over dowry-related issues in 2020, while another 66 incidents resulted in the husband or his family murdering her.

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