Srinagar, April 18 (GNS): The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has directed government to mitigate the sufferings of the victims of domestic violence in the J&K and Ladakh in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone all over the world. But there can be no dispute that it has affected different groups of people differently and there is a differential impact on existing inequalities in society,” a division bench of bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal observed while hearing a suo-moto Public Interest Litigation.
“Unfortunately, all crisis disproportionately impact women. Thus internationally it has been observed that while the pandemic is having a tremendous negative impact on societies and economies, the adverse social and economic consequences of the pandemic for women and girls are devastating,” the division bench observed.
The court referred to a statement by Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations that nearly 60% of women around the world working in the informal economy, earning less, saving less are at greater risk of falling into poverty because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the lockdown is implemented, societies as a whole are having reduced access to resources. There is increase in stress due to loss of jobs and strained finances, the court said as per an order with Global News Service.
“Lack of income, unemployment, insecurity about the future or the fate of children creates tensions amongst the adults leading to abuse of all kinds. This is exaggerated in families with prior histories of such behaviour. Women and children are found to be specially vulnerable to such domestic violence which has seen a worldwide spike,” the court said and ordered grant of immediate assistance to the affected.
It ordered creation of dedicated funding to address issues of violence against women and girls as part of the COVID-19 response by J&K and Ladakh.
The court also ordered governments to have increased availability of call-in services to facilitate discreet reporting of abuse, tele/online legal and counseling service for women and girls.
It also ordered government to have “designated informal safe spaces for women, say grocery stores and pharmacies, where they can report domestic violence/abuse without alerting the perpetrators.” The court also ordered that there shall be immediate designation of safe spaces, say for instance empty hotels, education institutions etc as shelters for women who are compelled to leave their domestic situation.
“These shelters must be treated as accessible shelters,” the court said and directed the government to give urgent publicity to information regarding all of the measures as also the availability of the facilities for seeking relief and redressal against the issues of domestic violence.
Observing that the position as obtains as regards domestic violence is similar as is being experienced in countries all over the world including Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
“Studies have shown that innovative actions are being taken that should be examined and replicated,” the court said. In Argentina, for example, the court said, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report. In France where domestic violence has risen by about 30% since the national lockdown, the court said, grocery stores are housing pop-up-counselling services. Victims are being asked to access pharmacies and inform pharmacists about the abuse directly, or using a code word: mask 19 if they are accompanied by their abuser.
The United Nations have urged governments to dedicate funding in COVID-19 response plans for domestic violence shelters, ensure increased support to call-in lines including text services so reports of abuse can take place discreetly, provide online legal support and psychosocial services for women and girls. Besides the UN has called for having shelters to be designated as essential services and kept open, which may mean providing childcare to staff so they can work and ensuring that these services are accessible, so they should be integrated into other essential service spaces, like grocery stores and pharmacies.
The division bench also directed all the courts in J&K and Ladakh to treat cases of domestic abuse urgently and proceed with the matters in accordance with the circulars issued regarding the procedure to be followed ensuring social distancing.
The Secretaries of the J&K Legal Services Authority have been asked to call for list of all cases involving cases of domestic violence which are pending as complaints with the police stations in J&K and Ladakh or in the courts. They have been asked to ascertain the safety and well-being of the complainants. (GNS)