Partnering with Civil Society to Combat Domestic Violence

Chatbots help survivors report cases of domestic violence and aid their transition to healing. Photos by Pinky Serafica/ADB.

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Domestic violence is a human rights issue, requiring collective stakeholder interventions to provide a continuum of care for all affected.


The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has escalated gendered human rights and socio-economic impacts, including a shadow pandemic: domestic violence. In 2020, Mongolia’s national police data revealed a 30% increase in reported cases of domestic violence compared with 2019. Of the total number of survivors, 93% are women, and 90% of the crimes were committed in a household setting. However, most of the reported cases were withdrawn during the investigation because only 10.2% of the cases were considered crimes under the Criminal Code of Mongolia.

Under the technical assistance on Addressing and Preventing Domestic Violence in Mongolia during the COVID-19 Crisis, ADB engaged three nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—National Center Against Violence, Beautiful Hearts against Sexual Violence, and Institute of Applied Psychology[1]—to strengthen the country’s mechanism against domestic violence. The project was positioned to respond to an anticipated increase in the need for support and to augment the existing 24-hour national police hotline for domestic violence emergencies, as well as the National Center Against Violence counseling hotline, which operates during business hours only.

The project also intended to boost the COVID-19 safety of first responders and survivors by providing essential personal protective equipment, first aid kits, and disinfection items for 14 shelters, 15 one-stop service centers, and police units across the country. Three mobile ultrasound units for on-site examination of survivors were also included in the procurement for selected government centers.

Project Snapshot

  • 25 June 2020 : Approval date
  • 31 December 2022 : Closing date

  • US$400,000 : Technical Assistance

  • Financing :
  • Executing agency :
    • Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs of Mongolia
  • Implementing agency :
    • Secretariat, Coordination Council for Crime Prevention, Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs

In Mongolia, COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns led to income loss and higher stress levels. Limited mobility, in compliance with health protocols, further heightened the risks of domestic violence and isolated at-risk individuals and families who were confined indoors or left alone with their abusers.

A 30% increase in reported domestic violence cases was reported during the initial COVID-19 lockdown in the first quarter of 2020. Around 48.1% of cases were from the capital city Ulaanbaatar, while 51.9% were from rural areas.

The number of survivors who sought assistance from shelters and one-stop service centers increased by 88.7% in 2020 from 2019. The police department’s national domestic violence hotline 107 reported a 40.8% rise in demand for counseling services, while the National Center Against Violence-operated hotline received 30% more calls.


Domestic violence is a human rights issue, encompassing public health, security and protection, and gender equality. It requires the collective interventions of stakeholders—government, civil society, private sector, and communities—who will provide a continuum of care for survivors, their families, and witnesses.

The COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated the challenges survivors faced in reporting cases and getting the information and support services in accordance with the amended 2016 Domestic Violence Law. Government resources were stretched tightly due to overwhelming public health and law enforcement systems, resulting in disrupted lifelines for reporting as well as rescue and medical care for domestic violence survivors and their families.   

National Center Against Violence and Beautiful Hearts already have established domestic violence services and community networks, which are often underfunded, micro-scale, and project-based. As phone-based helplines like 107 and the NGO-run hotline could only receive so many calls at once, or were operational only during business hours, survivors had limited access to services during the quarantine period.

Communication is a critical part of the duty of care continuum but initiatives by NGOs and governments are largely uncoordinated. Most campaigns focus only on raising awareness and do not involve improving reporting behavior, removing stigma, and encouraging service-seeking.

A more unified and coordinated duty of care continuum is necessary so that campaigns and support services are survivor-centered and provided at each stage of need. This should be consistent in all areas—from reporting cases to accessing psychosocial and legal counseling, pursuing divorce and other legal remedies, ensuring protection and security, and transitioning toward economic independence.


ADB partnered with the three NGOs to strengthen the links in the duty of care continuum for survivors and their families, expanding their reach up to the soum (district) and bagh (smallest administrative unit) levels.

More specifically, the project aimed to increase the efficiency of the National Center Against Violence’s psychosocial and legal counseling and improve government entity National Legal Institute’s technological capacity through chatbots and website-based counseling. Chatbots and SMS services were set up to reach rural and remote areas, especially at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. The project also aimed to raise awareness about domestic violence prevention and increase the reporting behavior of targeted at-risk groups through multimedia campaigns promoting the expanded services.

These are the key insights that guided project implementation.

ADB worked with NGOs that have a well-established psychosocial and legal counseling expertise rooted in survivor-centered approaches. These NGOs also coordinate with government agencies and other NGOs providing shelter and child protection services. Duty of care is grounded on the survivors’ and their families’ needs, security, wellbeing, and human rights. NGOs recognize the levels of trauma experienced by survivors and the different shades of stigma children undergo as witnesses and survivors themselves.

Partnering with NGOs helped direct ADB interventions to put the rights of each survivor—including the right to life, right to freedom and protection from violence, and right to work and education—at the center of programs.

A domestic violence survivor used chatbots to ask for rescue and continues to use them as she transitions to economic independence and healing.

ADB worked with the National Center Against Violence, National Legal Institute, and an information technology company to design, debug and deploy chatbots based on counseling experiences and consultations with survivors. Chatbots were fed with extensive content related to legal aid, psychosocial counseling, child protection and referral services. Most importantly, the chatbots considered the survivors’ need for security, anonymity, and confidentiality. Questions not recognized by chatbots as well as those needing more-in depth responses are answered by live counselors whom ADB also supports.

ADB optimized the NGOs’ highly trained and skilled facilitators, and existing capacity building programs and materials on handling specialized domestic violence cases.

Training of police psychologists and shelter operators on ethics and safety protocols for domestic violence survivors is crucial.

Beautiful Hearts against Sexual Violence virtually trained 175 police psychologists and shelter operators nationwide who are first responders to domestic violence. They learned about ethics, safety protocols, and providing quality response to children during the pandemic, when incidents of sexual abuse doubled.

The Institute of Applied Psychology facilitated a 3-day training on mental health and stress management for 60 police psychologists. The post-training evaluation showed a 99% increase in knowledge and understanding among participants on handling stress.

The National Center Against Violence has extended assistance to more than 10,000 survivors over the past 2 decades. One-third of those who approached the center have never reported to the police. As a nongovernment third party, the National Center Against Violence is well positioned to address the most severe domestic violence cases where survivors do not report to local police due to fear of retaliation, disclosure, and violations of confidentiality within their small communities. It has also helped survivors navigate power dynamics particularly in cases where perpetrators occupy high positions or are respected or feared in the communities or in law enforcement units.

National Center Against Violence Executive Director Arvintaria Nordogjav holds up a child’s clothing sewn by a survivor while staying in the NGO-ran shelter.

ADB partnered with NGOs in recognition of their unique role in trust-building between frontline service providers and survivors, especially in rural settings where there are breaches in confidentiality and privacy among small communities that add to the layer of trauma that survivors and children already face. With the NGOs, ADB was able to strengthen the capacity of frontline service providers, particularly police officers, school social workers, and medical practitioners.

With Mongolia’s culturally diverse and geographically unique environment, the NGOs’ networks are critical in reaching remote populations, such as nomadic herding families that have difficulty seeking assistance when faced with abuse and violence.

Communication strategies of ADB projects and of other groups with similar focus on gender-based violence require strong coordination, management, and tight monitoring. A multi-disciplinary team—composed of gender and communication specialists, with project implementors from the government, private sector, and civil society—can optimize resources, increase the reach of communication materials, and amplify messaging.

During the project’s assessment, focus group discussions were held to measure the reach and impact of communication materials that were developed.

NGOs can customize communication approaches to fit local nuances and contexts. For example, domestic violence survivors among herding families are isolated, and while they can be reached via social media (particularly Facebook), face-to-face visits by NGOs and local officials can augment messages with more in-depth discussions. 

Based on previous ADB project experiences, capacity building and strategic planning on communication among local NGOs and providing them with resources to help materialize or expand ground initiatives are key to designing and implementing local campaigns.


Improved service delivery through chatbots and rehabilitation of website in partnership with the National Center Against Violence

  • 1,019 persons (72.5% women) were serviced by chatbots from April 2021 to December 2022. The NGO provided legal counseling and aid (43% of 439 persons), psychological counseling (22% of 224 persons), and referral services to government shelters, one-stop-service centers, lawyers, police hotlines, multidisciplinary teams[2] at the primary administrative levels (20% of 203 persons) as well as information (15% of 153 persons).
  • As a result of chatbot services, 26 women with 16 children have been rescued so far and brought to either a National Center Against Violence-ran shelter or referred to a police shelter or one-stop service center.
  • Even after their rescue, some survivors use chatbots for counseling to overcome severe trauma. Apart from being trustworthy first responders that ensure the safety, anonymity, and security of survivors, chatbots have also become a reliable partner in providing aid and facilitating full rehabilitation.

Increased awareness of domestic violence through multimedia communication campaign and improved reporting through chatbots

  • In November 2022, when the media campaign to promote the chatbots ramped up, the National Center Against Violence reported a daily average increase of 14 new chatbot users.
  • ADB engaged a state-owned media company to produce content and disseminate various types of multimedia products—20 radio ads, 10 television video clips, 8 guestings of domestic violence experts on TV programs, including news and talk shows, which reached 170,000 viewers (36% men).

Sustainability of interventions ensured

  • While the sustainability of the chatbots was built into the project plans, stronger and binding commitments from the government and civil society are needed to ensure that interventions continue beyond the project life. The National Center Against Violence has expressed commitment to continue providing timely services. The private sector is needed to sustain the NGO’s chatbot operations to ensure the continuum of care for survivors of domestic violence in Mongolia.

Delays in the implementation of the communication campaign provided several lessons for similar projects.

  • A strong, well-coordinated, and well-managed multi-disciplinary team of gender, communications, and IT specialists can direct the strategic development and release of quality content as most of the local media companies lacked understanding about producing gender-sensitive content and ethical handling of domestic violence messaging.
  • NGOs can be tapped as coordinators to synchronize and monitor national and local campaigns.
  • Capacity building among media practitioners is needed to increase skills in using results of stakeholder consultations and research as bases for designing messages and activities.

[1] National Center Against Violence is an NGO that has been providing comprehensive domestic violence services, including prevention, legal and psychosocial counseling, and protection for survivor women and children since 1995. Beautiful Hearts Against Sexual Violence has been providing trauma-informed psychosocial service for survivors and capacity building training for service providers on child sexual abuse and sexual violence since 2012. The Institute of Applied Psychology has been providing psychological training, research, diagnosis, and counseling services since 2013.

[2] A multi-disciplinary team includes police, psychologists, social workers, medical practitioners, and primary administrative unit governors who provide protection, social welfare, psychosocial, legal, health, and child protection services.

Pinky Serafica
Senior Communications Officer, Department of Communications and Knowledge Management, Asian Development Bank

Pinky Serafica has been a practitioner of development communication and behavior change in international development projects for the last 2 decades.  She specializes in managing strategic communication processes for selected projects across ADB member countries. A former multi-media journalist, she has produced knowledge products on various themes for different sectors.

Tsolmon Begzsuren
Social Development Specialist (Gender and Development), Gender Equality Division, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank

Tsolmon Begzsuren has been a practitioner of gender and development, social and gender analysis, and impact assessment for 15 years, covering different sectors.

Saranzaya Gerelt-Od
Gender Officer, Mongolia Resident Mission, Asian Development Bank

Saranzaya Gerelt-Od is a gender specialist and human rights advocate specializing in women’s and girls’ rights, social justice, and gender-based violence. She has worked with civil society and development organizations in Mongolia for 10 years.

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