The government has enacted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act in 2010 that ensures the victims' rights to law enforcement officers' assistance, required medical facilities, and legal services.
The enactment was the outcome of a collaboration between the women's movement and government.
The act has several progressive provisions including protection orders for women, the right to reside in the marital home, temporary custody of children, and recovery of personal assets and assets acquired during the marriage.
Ten years have gone by since the enactment of the law, but the implementation is still very poor due to the lack of awareness among victims and key implementing agencies, rights activists say.
As a result, violence within the home remained almost a daily reality for a huge number of women and children in Bangladesh, irrespective of socioeconomic status and urban or rural settings.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, such violence was rampant.
According to the rights body Ain o Salish Kendra, 554 women faced domestic violence last year.
Of those, 367 were killed by their husbands and 71 by the husbands' family members.
Except for murder and suicide incidents, only 35 cases have been filed for domestic violence incidents, it said.
A survey of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), another rights organisation, showed a total of 37,912 women in its working districts faced domestic violence from April to September last year.
Despite such a huge number of violent incidents, there are only a handful of cases filed under the act in the last 10 years. A complete statistic of the cases is hard to come by.
But a yet-to-be-published qualitative study, commissioned by ActionAid Bangladesh, shows a dismal picture.
The study that analysed the case records from the Chief Judicial Magistrate Courts in over a dozen of districts found no case was filed under the law in Bhola and Sherpur districts courts in the past 10 years.
Conducted by Taslima Yasmin, assistant professor at the law department of Dhaka University, the analysis said there had been only one petition filed in Barishal court in the last 10 years and that too was still pending disposal.
The study, styled "Exploring the obstacles in accessing justice for survivors of domestic violence: How effective is the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010" was conducted between October and December 2020.
"A lawyer who's practicing in the metropolitan magistrate courts in Dhaka for 25 years told us that no one approached him to file a case under the act in the last 10 years. He saw only one case being heard in a court during this time," Prof Taslima told The Daily Star.
Similarly, the Judicial Magistrates in Gazipur, Narsingdi, and Mymensingh informed that they rarely saw any case being filed under this law, she said.
"There may be only one or two cases that were filed in their courts over the past four to five years," she added.
However, the study found Jashore, Sylhet, and Dinajpur districts where the number of cases is higher.
"The main reason is the local legal aid NGOs working for preventing violence against women and girls played an active role is in districts," she said.
However, lack of awareness about the law is still prevalent in these districts, the study said.
After analysing 90 case records, the study found the act is commonly understood in Sylhet as the only remedy for the return of valuables from the matrimonial home.
In Jashore, women who had been forced out of their matrimonial homes use the act as a forum for seeking maintenance.
The study said lack of awareness about the law among the victims and key implementing agencies are the major reason for the low number of cases.
Nineteen of the 20 survivors interviewed in the study said they never heard of the act, under which they could get remedy for violent incidents in the domestic sphere.
Surprisingly, none of them was told to file the case under the act by the police, community members, local government representatives, or local NGOs when they reached out for help, it said.
According to the act, the upazila women affairs officers have been made responsible as Enforcement Officer (EO) for reporting incidents of domestic violence to the court, accessing legal aid under the Legal Aid Act 2000, referring the victims to safe shelters, if necessary, and much more.
But the organisations working on preventing violence against women said the enforcement officers remain unavailable for immediate support as they are overburdened with duties and underequipped in absence of any budget.
Besides, there is a lack of orientation and regular training on the provisions and usage of the law among the implementing agencies, said Prof Taslima Yasmin.
As per the act, after receiving a complaint, a police officer needs to inform the victims about her right to make an application for obtaining a remedy under the law, the availability of medical services and services of the enforcement officers, and effective coordination among the implementing agencies.
In reality, they are unaware of the duties, she said.
About the lack of awareness, Arpita Das, coordinator of violence against women and girls in MJF, said if stakeholders, especially the lawyers, remain ignorant about the remedy of a specific law, they cannot suggest a victim pursue it.
"When a victim comes to them with such issues, they usually suggest to settle either through informal mediation or under following legislations -- the Penal Code 1860, the Women and Children Repression Act 2000, and the Dowry Prohibition Act 2018," she added.
A 2020 MJF study found that the current reporting practices of domestic violence start with informing the UP members, but they often blame the victims and support the perpetrators, as the members need the "husbands" muscle to remain in power.
Lack of shelters and livelihood options, survivors are mostly asked to return her to the perpetrators, in absence of an alternative, which is a major setback of the law.
The remedies provided in the DVPP act made the law unique, through which a victim can address interim and permanent protection orders, residence order, compensation order, and safe custody order, upon application to the court, and these are civil in nature, said Prof Taslima.
"The victims and lawyers generally prefer more stringent penal sanctions for the accused, but not the remedies," she said.
State Minister Fazilatun Nessa Indira for Women and Children Affairs could not be reached for comments.