Initiatives for Enhancing Safety of Women
The Women and Child Development Ministry of the Government of India has taken a number of legislative as well as programmatic measures to enhance the safety of women in the country.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 came into force with effect from 9th December 2013. The Act seeks to cover all women, irrespective of their age or employment status and protect them against sexual harassment at all workplaces both in public and private sector, whether organized or unorganized. “Sexual harassment at the workplace” is defined in a comprehensive manner, in keeping with the definition laid down in the Vishaka judgment, and broadening it further to cover circumstances of implied or explicit promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment or humiliating treatment, which can affect her health or safety. Furthermore, the Act goes much further in defining the ‘workplace’ to include organisations, department, office, branch unit etc. in the public and private sector, organized and unorganized, hospitals, nursing homes, educational institutions, sports institutes, stadiums, sports complex and any place visited by the employee during the course of employment including the transportation. For the first time, the Act provides protection to regular/temporary/ad hoc/daily wage employees, whether for remuneration or not and can also include volunteers. This covers domestic workers too.
The Act under Section 4 and Section 6 creates a redressal mechanism in the form of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) and Local Complaints Committee (LCC). The Act mandates that the Committee shall complete the inquiry within a time period of 90 days. On completion of the inquiry, the report will be sent to the employer or the District Officer, as the case may be and they are mandated to take action on the report within 60 days. The Act under Section 19 casts a responsibility on every employer to create an environment which is free from sexual harassment.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, (POCSO), 2012
The Government enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, (POCSO), 2012 as a special law to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. The POCSO Act was formulated to address the heinous crimes of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children. The Act is gender-neutral and defines a child as any person below the age of eighteen years. It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography, and deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill or when the abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority vis-a-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor. In keeping with the best international child protection standards, the Act provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offences. The Act prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and fine. It also prescribes punishment for a person if he/she provides false information with the intention to defame any person, including a child. Most importantly, the Act provides for child-friendly procedures for reporting of offences, recording of evidence, investigation and trial.
Model Guidelines under the POSCO Act, 2012 were issued by the Ministry on 18th September, 2013 under Section 39 of the POSCO Act. State governments are required to make guidelines for the use of professionals to assist the child in pre-trial and trial stage. The rules framed under the Act provide for qualifications and experience of interpreters, translators, special educators, and experts; arrangements for care and protection and emergency medical treatment of the child; compensation payable to a child who has been the victim of a sexual offence; and the manner of periodic monitoring of the provisions of the Act by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights.
Domestic Violence Act, 2005
The Act seeks to cover those women who are or have been in a relationship with the abuser where both parties have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage or a relationship in the nature of marriage, or adoption; in addition relationship with family members living together as a joint family are also included. Even those women who are sisters, widows, mothers, single women, or living with the abuser are entitled to get legal protection under the proposed Act. `Domestic violence’ includes actual abuse or the threat of abuse that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic. Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives would also be covered under this definition.
One of the most important features of the Act is the woman’s right to secure housing and appointment of Protection Officers and NGOs to provide assistance to the woman w.r.t medical examination, legal aid, safe shelter, etc.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013
The Ministry took special initiatives for amendment in the Cr. P.C. & I.P.C. for inclusion of offences like voyeurism, stalking, disrobing, voluntarily throwing or attempting to throw acid as crimes. There has been significant change in the definition of ‘Rape’ under IPC and stringent punishment has been prescribed for crimes against women.
Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010
The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 has been introduced in Parliament. It aims to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954, to provide therein irretrievable break down of marriage as a ground of divorce. It provides safeguards, to parties to marriage who file petition for grant of divorce by consent, from the harassment in court if any of the party does not come to the court or wilfully avoids the court to keep the divorce proceedings inconclusive.
The Ministry of Women and Child development has taken several initiatives on the programmatic front too.
SWADHAR :A Scheme for Women in Difficult Circumstances
The Ministry of Women and Child Development launched ‘Swadhar’ in 2001-02 to address the specific vulnerability of women in difficult circumstances through a home-based holistic and integrated approach. The scheme through the provision of shelter, food, clothing, counselling, training, clinical and legal aid aims to rehabilitate the women in difficult circumstances. Widows deserted by their families and relatives and left uncared near religious places are also target group beneficiaries of this scheme. Funds under the scheme are released to implementing agencies which include non-governmental organizations and State Government bodies.
A sum of Rs. 2363.15 lakh was released in 2012-13.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development launched a comprehensive scheme called ‘Ujjawala’ in 2007. Conceived primarily for the purpose of preventing trafficking on the one hand and rescue and rehabilitation of victims on the other, the scheme has five specific components- Prevention, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Repatriation of victims of trafficking. The scheme is mainly implemented through NGOs.
The scheme also facilitates rescue of victims from the place of their exploitation and place them in safe custody in order to provide rehabilitation services, both immediate and long-term. It provides to the victims basic amenities/needs such as shelter, food, clothing, medical treatment including counselling, legal aid and guidance and vocational training. It also facilitates reintegration of the victims into the family and society at large.
From 2009-13, the numbers of projects approved under the Ujjawala Scheme are 206 and a sum of Rs. 31.01 cr has been utilized.
Working Women Hostel (WWH)
Under the Scheme of Working Women Hostel financial assistance is provided for construction/ running of Hostel in rented premises for those working women who may be single, widowed, divorced, separated, married but whose husband or immediate family does not reside in the same area and for those women who are under training for job. Provision of day care centre for children of the inmates of the Hostel is an important aspect of the scheme. During the year 2013, nine new projects have been sanctioned and an amount of Rs. 16.08 crores has been released up to 23rd December, 2013.
The Ahimsa Messenger programme was launched in September 2013. The programme aims at sensitising society on violence faced by women and children and creating awareness about their legal rights. It enlists women and men, especially young boys and girls to work as ‘Ahimsa Messengers’ who help prevent crime and violence against women and children and ensure timely justice in cases where violence is committed against women and children.
Trained Ahimsa messengers work as the link between victims of violence and officials who can provide relief and redress and also facilitate follow-up during judicial processes.