NEW DELHI: Over 5 per cent married women have admitted to being sexually abused by their husbands in the country’s biggest health survey, rekindling the debate over whether marital rape should be recognised as a crime by the government.
The data on domestic violence in the National Family Health Survey 4 for 2015-16—put out in the public domain this week—show that 5.4 per cent of the surveyed women, aged 15-49 years, were forced to have sex against their will by their husbands at some point.
About 4.4 per cent of these women complained of marital rape within a year of the survey, which is done once in a decade by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with the help of national and international agencies.
The survey says very few women seek any kind of help for such violence. Only 10 per cent married victims of sexual violence seek help. “The form of sexual violence most commonly reported by women was that their husband used physical force to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to,” says the survey.
Several civil society members and women’s rights activists now claim the government has been deliberately ignoring the issue despite what lakhs of women go through.
“It’s a shame that the government has repeatedly ignored demands to recognise marital rape as a crime. Even its own survey proves such heinous injustice is done to a large number of women,” said Ranjana Kumari, a women’s right activist and director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.
“The percentage of women who have come out and spoken about sexual abuse by their spouses might look meagre to some at 5.4 per cent, but that’s because these cases are grossly under-reported and few women actually admit to being victims of this injustice,” she added.
Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said the government should stop shutting its eyes to an issue that affects a large number of women.
“It’s unfortunate that while data on marital rape exist, marital rape as a crime does not,” she said.
“Last year, in its response to a Delhi High Court notice on a petition to get marital rape recognised as a crime, the government said if it happens, the institution of marriage would get destabilised and the law would be used against men. That’s far from the truth and sad for women,” said Dhawale.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code considers forced sex in marriages a crime only when the wife is below 15.