Crime, Crimes against women, Government of India, India

NFHS-5 data clearly establishes under reporting of Crime against Women in some States


The NFHS-5 report provides data on gender-based violence. While the overall proportion of women who experienced different forms of violence has decreased, the data clearly establishes the under-reporting of crime against women in some states like Bihar. 

Violence against women and girls is a grave violation of human rights which is prevalent even today across the world. Women and girls are subjected to different forms of abuse, be it emotional, physical, or sexual, because of their gender. This affects their sense of security, health, dignity, and autonomy. Gender-based violence has lifelong repercussions for the victims. According to the UN, about one in three women across the world has experienced sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Among the many forms of violence that women face, spousal violence is widely prevalent in India. 

Spousal violence or domestic violence is when the perpetrator is the spouse or in a domestic setting. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many countries & states to impose lockdowns leading to a global surge in domestic violence directed towards women and girls. Such instances of increase in domestic violence have also increased in India. Multiple factors such as alcohol & drug abuse, sense of entitlement, etc. contribute to domestic violence. 

NFHS-5 provides data on Gender based violence

Data about domestic violence is captured in National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) and registered crimes of domestic violence are reported in the annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The Health Ministry recently released the key findings of the first phase of NFHS-5 conducted in 2019-20. This is the fifth edition of the survey covering 6.1 Lakh sample households. 17 states and 5 UTs have been covered in the first phase of the survey. The second phase of the survey covering the remaining 12 states and 2 UTs was paused because of COVID-19 and has resumed in November 2020. The second phase report will be released soon.  The sample size for the survey varies from state to state because of the differences in population & age composition. 

The latest NFHS survey has a separate section on Gender-Based Violence under which data on women aged between 18 to 49 years and who have experienced spousal violence, and physical violence during pregnancy has been provided. There is also data on young women who experienced sexual violence. Both physical and/or sexual violence have been included in spousal violence. 

More than 40% ever married women in Karnataka and Bihar have faced spousal violence

The findings from the survey indicate that there has been a decrease in the proportion of women who reported experience of spousal violence in most parts of the country compared to NFHS-4 carried out in 2015-16. Of the 22 states/UTs covered in the first phase of NFHS-5, it is observed that except in Karnataka, Assam, Maharashtra, Ladakh, Sikkim, and Himachal Pradesh, the proportion of women who ever experienced spousal violence (those of ages 18 to 49) has decreased compared to the previous editions of the NFHS. 

About 44.4% of the women in Karnataka, where this percentage has more than doubled in the past decade, were victims of spousal violence. Bihar is the other state with over 40% of women having reported spousal violence. However, unlike in Karnataka, the incidence of spousal violence had dropped in Bihar as compared to the previous NFHS surveys. During NFHS-3, 59% of the ever-married women were victims of spousal violence in Bihar which has now decreased to 40%. More than 30% of women reported that they have experienced spousal violence in each of the states of Manipur, Telangana, Assam, and Andhra Pradesh. In Maharashtra and West Bengal, this number was more than 25% but less than 30%. In each of the states of Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Lakshadweep, less than 10% of women reported an experience of spousal violence.

Greater proportion of Rural women experienced Spousal Violence than their Urban counterparts

Bihar, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Sikkim were the only states where this percentage was more in urban areas than in rural areas. The difference was the highest in Telangana where the cases of spousal violence among rural women were 42.3% whereas that among urban women was 27.3%. In general, it is observed that a greater proportion of rural women experienced spousal violence than their urban counterparts. 

Proportion of Women who faced physical violence when pregnant is highest in Karnataka

Physical violence during pregnancy can be harmful both for the mother and the unborn baby. This could even result in perinatal death or preterm delivery. About 5.8% of the women in Karnataka in the defined age group stated that they faced physical violence when pregnant, the highest among states. A total of 4% of women in Telangana, 3.8% in Andhra Pradesh, 3.5% in West Bengal, and 3.3% in Maharashtra reported physical violence when pregnant. Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, and Nagaland reported below 1%. 

17 of the 22 states/UTs covered in the phase-1 of NFHS-5 reported a decrease in the proportion of women who experienced violence when pregnant, compared to the previous survey. Telangana & Bihar recorded the highest such decrease followed. Sikkim and Meghalaya were among the states/UTs where this percentage increased compared to the previous survey. As is the case with spousal violence, the proportion of rural women who experienced physical violence when pregnant was higher in rural areas than in urban areas. 

More than 10% of the Women in Karnataka faced sexual violence before they turned 18 

About 11% of the women aged between 18 to 29 years in Karnataka faced sexual violence before they turned 18. Karnataka is followed by West Bengal where 9.7% of young women reported facing sexual violence. More than 8% of the women in Bihar too faced sexual violence before they turned 18. At the same time, this number was less than 2% in the states of Kerala and Nagaland. As is the case with other issues of gender-based violence, the proportion of young rural women who faced sexual violence before they turned 18 is more than their urban counterparts except in the states of Kerala, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Sikkim, and Andhra Pradesh. 

Trends related to spousal violence against women and physical violence against pregnant women have shown an improvement across most states, from NFHS-4 to NFHS-5. However, the trend is mixed in the case of young women who experienced sexual violence before they turned 18. There has been an improvement in the states of Bihar, Tripura, Telangana, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala while the proportion of young women who experienced sexual violence before they turned 18 increased in the states of Maharashtra, Assam, Goa, and West Bengal.

Gender based violence data of NFHS-5 data clearly establishes under reporting of Crimes

Under-reporting of crimes against women is an oft-discussed issue. The gender-based violence data of NFHS-5 clearly establishes the under-reporting of crimes against women in certain states. Here is a comparison of Bihar and Kerala that clearly demonstrates this problem of under-reporting. 

According to the data released by NCRB, the All-India rate of total crime against women in 2019 was 62.4 per lakh female population. That is about 62 cases of reported crime against women for every one lakh women. This number includes all forms of crimes against women including under IPC and SLL for which FIRs have been registered with the police. The rate of crime against women in Bihar was 32.3 whereas, in Kerala, the same was 62.7 in the year 2019. What this means is that as far as reported crimes against women of all ages are concerned, the crime rate in Kerala is almost twice the rate in Bihar. The difference is even stark among ‘Domestic Violence’ cases (Cruelty by Husband or his relatives – Sec. 498A IPC). Bihar reported a crime rate of 4.2 in this category while Kerala reported a crime rate of 16.2 in 2019, almost four times greater. However, the data provided in the NFHS-5 report presents a completely opposite picture. 

According to the NFHS data, 40% of the ever-married women aged between 18 to 49 years in Bihar had faced spousal violence while in Kerala, this is only 9.9%. In other words, the proportion of women who experienced spousal violence in Bihar is almost 4 times more than in Kerala. This is exactly the opposite of what the NCRB data on domestic violence indicates. The numbers for Bihar are much higher than Kerala in all the forms of gender-based violence reported in NFHS-5. 

Though the data of NCRB & NFHS-5 are not directly comparable, the numbers clearly establish heavy under-reporting in states like Bihar. This could be the case across certain states as explained in one of our previous stories.


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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