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Marital rape: Most married women are sexually abused by their husbands, says NFHS data

The Supreme Court will soon hear a petition challenging the exception II of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code after a split verdict by the Delhi Court on Wednesday. While Section 375 criminalises rape, the said exception says that rape within marriage cannot be treated as a criminal offense and the two judges who heard the petition had conflicting opinions on the same.

While the topic is yet again discussed widely, the latest government data says that the husband was the perpetrator for most of the married women in the country who have experienced sexual violence.

According to the National Family Health Survey 5 (2019-21), “Among married women aged 18-49 who have ever experienced sexual violence, 83 per cent report their current husband and 13 per cent report a former husband as perpetrator.”

The previous NFHS, which was out five years ago, also noted similar numbers. The latest survey also observes that in most cases of sexual harassment, the perpetrators are mostly people with whom the victims have had an intimate relationship with.

Six per cent of the women, aged between 18 and 49, who were interviewed for this nation-wide survey by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that they had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Of the 4,169 women who are (or used to) married and have experienced sexual violence, 82 per cent said that the perpetrator was their husbands. Of them, a large majority (84 per cent) said that their husbands “physically forced her to have sexual intercourse with him even when she did not want to”. This is similar to the IPC’s definition of rape.

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Karnataka has the highest proportion of women who reported sexual violence by their husbands (10.3). It is followed by West Bengal (9), Bihar (8.1) and Ladakh (7.7). At the same time, only a fraction of these women sought help, after ending physical or sexual violence from their partners.

“Of all women in India who have ever experienced any type of physical or sexual violence, only 14 per cent have sought help for the violence, and 77 per cent have never sought any help nor told anyone about the violence they experienced,” the survey says. And among the ones who sought help, close to 60 per cent turned to their own families for support.

Wealth and education also played a major part, the survey revealed. For instance, 7.2 per cent of the married women with less than five years of schooling have faced sexual violence from spouses.

However, among the women who had 12 or more years of schooling, it was just 2.9 per cent. Also, 10.2 per cent of the married women from the lowest wealth quintile faced sexual violence from husbands, while among the richest, it was only 3.1 per cent.

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Published on

May 13, 2022

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