Every day, the newspapers are filled with new cases of atrocities committed against Indian women. In recent years, the Indian penal system has been brought into scrutiny by the public eye, as women, backed by the entire society, have been fighting for justice.
Today, we are highlighting steps forward that have been taken in the last 10 years to improve the situation for women and children in India. Only time can heal the deep-rooted cultural problems of the country. Yet, it is the state’s role to protect all its citizens from injustice, to allow them to live a life free of prejudice, discrimination and crime.
Stricter Laws against Sexual Harassment
After the gang rape of 23-year-old Nirbhaya in Delhi in 2012, the whole country became embroiled in waves of protests against sexual harassment.
• The 2013 Criminal Law Amendment Act, popularly known as the Nirbhaya Law, tried to tackle some of the loopholes in the Indian Penal Code.
• It introduced a minimum 20-year-sentence for gangrape offenders.
• Those guilty of recurrent harassment or gang rape also became liable to the death penalty.
• Formerly, those guilty of stalking or voyeurism could get away without a sentence. Now, these crimes are non-bailable and properly recognised within the Amendment Act.
Increased Justice for Acid Attack survivors
The brutal acid attack of 16-year-old Lakshmi hit the headlines in 2005, especially because she was one of the few victims who sought justice for herself and all other victims.
• Earlier, acid attack was not even considered a separate punishable offence under the Indian law.
• With the 2013 Amendment Act, however, acid attack became properly defined as a crime with a minimum sentence of 10 years, and a sentence that could extend to life.
• In 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the Government to limit over-the-counter acid sales to people over 18 years of age who provided ID and a reason for the purchase.
• The court also ruled that the Government should make acid attacks a non-bailable offense and pay about Rs. 3,50,000 to each survivor within 15 days of the attack for medical care.
Greater Protection for Children under POCSO
Following the increase in cases of sexual abuse against children, particularly in the highly populated NCR region in India, the issue was brought to the forefront by the Indian public and the media.
• The 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) has drastically increased the penalties given to those guilty of sexually assaulting a child or using a child for pornography and has introduced speedy trials to combat these cases.
• The minimum sentence for anyone who has sexually abuses a child is seven years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
• Even those who attempt to molest a child, will still receive up to half the penalties given to actual offenders.
• Protection has crucially been given to children from media interrogation, and safety measures have been put in place to protect children’s public profile and dignity.
Harsher Penalties for Child Marriage
India has the largest number of child brides in the world and yet little has been done to curb this problem.
• In 2006, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act formed an important first step in solving the issue.
• The Act has criminalised marriages which take place between people younger than 18, and if such marriages do take place, parents can face up to two years of imprisonment and a Rs. 1 Lakh fine.
• The Act also penalises any man over 18 who marries a minor, and anyone who fails to report and condemn child marriage.
• This is a huge step forward from the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint, which allowed girls as young as 14 to tie the knot.
Tougher Laws against Domestic Violence
• With the 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, men who physically, emotionally or economically abuse women in their household became liable to severe penalties.
• The Act gave a voice to the many sisters, mothers and in particular wives of India who are treated in a shocking way due to substance abuse or simple misogyny.
• The Act also gives protection to the women against the threats of assault and emotional manipulation.
• Read more about this step forward here.
Taking a hold on Sexual Harassment at the Worksplace
The 2013 Women at the Workplace Act has given protection against sexual harassment to all women in the workplace, including those in informal industries and domestic workers.
• It has greatly formalised the process of dealing with cases of abuse, putting structures in place to deal with complaints in offices, both in the private and Government sectors.
• Sexual harassment on the back of promises of preferential treatment or threats of loss of salary will also be heavily penalised.
Promising higher representation for women in Parliament
Currently, women only have 11% representation in parliament; shockingly, this is the highest it has ever been.
• The 2008 Women’s Reservation Bill was suggested to increase female representation in parliament.
• The Bill, which was passed through the Lok Sabha in 2010 and is now awaiting final approval, proposes that 33% all seats in parliament should be reserved for women.
• Also, a third of all seats reserved for certain castes and tribes will go to women in these groups.
• Read more here
Better Late than Never – Is Justice Delayed, Justice Denied?
Many Indians, particularly the survivors of crimes may feel that a lot of these laws and the amendments hereby made to them were late in the day. A whole lot of women have suffered brutally under a host of crimes, and continue to suffer today. While these laws are certainly a welcome move to boost the deteriorating position of women in India, there’s a lot more that needs to be achieved. Higher conviction rates, Police, medical and courthouse sensitivity to women and an eradication of patriarchal and misogynistic mindsets may help reduce crimes against women.
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