NATIONAL LEGAL RESEARCH DESK – A SHAKTI VAHINI INITIATIVE
As per 2011 Census, women constitute about 48.5 % of the country‘s total population. Recognising women as an important human resource, the Constitution of India has not only accorded equality to women but also empowered the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in their favour.
Gender based violence and discrimination against women has continued to be a pervasive feature of our society. Unequal economic, social and political status and position of women is an outcome of patriarchy and deeply entrenched socio-cultural stereotype about women. While enactment of law is a first step to address violence against women and give them substantial equality, it is equally essential that the law is implemented and enforced in letter and spirit. At the same time, the victim and the survivor of violence need services and support from police, health, legal aid providers and from the State for rehabilitation.
It is well-known that violence against women attacks the very foundation of her sense of self-esteem and dignity. It shakes her sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Last few years have witnessed a rising graph of crime against women. Delays in investigation by police as well in prosecution by courts have not gone down well with those seeking justice.
As per allocation of Business Rules, 1961, Ministry of Home Affairs deals with ‗Administration of Criminal Justice‘ in cases of crimes against women and children. Highest importance to the matter of prevention and control of all forms of crime against women and children including sexual abuse and trafficking is, therefore, given by the Government. However, as per Seventh Schedule, Police‘ and Public Order‘ are State subjects under the Constitution, and as such the primary responsibility of prevention, protection, detection, registration, investigation and prosecution of crimes, including crimes against women and children, lies with the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations. The Government of India through the Ministry of Home Affairs augments the efforts of States/ UTs by providing them financial assistance for modernisation of State Police Forces in terms of weaponry, communication equipment, mobility, training and other infrastructure under the Scheme of Modernisation of State Police Forces. The rehabilitation of these victims comes under the domain of Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Elaborating the legislative and administrative measures initiated with a view to combating crime of sexual abuse and trafficking, the Ministry of Home Affairs in a written note stated that the Union Government has been constantly reviewing and strengthening the existing legislations. Amendments have also been enacted in the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2005 and 2008 to strengthen the law for prevention of crime against women and children and taking measures for safeguarding their interest. The Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act 2008, which came into effect on 31 December, 2009 strengthened the procedural safeguards guaranteed to victims of rape and other crimes against women. In a significant change from the existing law, a victim of rape has been statutorily empowered, with the permission of the court, to engage an advocate of her own choice to assist the prosecution initiated by the State and at the same time, ensure that her interests are protected. The Cr.Pc Amendment Act also provides for safeguards relating to recording of statements of women victims, in camera trials and protection of her identity. Trial for offence of rape and aggravated rape is required to be conducted as far as practicable by women judges. The amendment also mandates a three-month time limit for the completion of investigation of cases of rape and child sexual abuse.
Notwithstanding the efforts taken by the Union Government and the existence of plethora of laws, special and local laws, the crime against women during the year 2011 has increased by 7.1% over the year 2010 and by 23.4% over the year 2007. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) component of crimes against women has accounted for 95.8% of total crimes and the rest 4.2% were Special and Local Laws (SLL) crimes against women. The proportion of IPC crimes has increased during the last 5 years from 8.8% in the year 2007 to 9.4% during the year 2011.
Apart from several initiatives taken by the Government of India to contain the incidents of crime against women and children, a horrific incident took place in Delhi on 16 December, 2012 which has put the entire humanity to shame. A 23-year old student of physiotherapy was brutally gang-raped by six men on a moving bus leading to her sad demise. This gruesome incident has touched the pinnacle of cruelty and insensitivity both by police and society which leads a common citizen of the country to think that either the laws are not adequate to infuse an element of fear on these miscreants or more effective steps need to be taken by the Government lest the reported failure of law enforcement agencies becomes the root cause of current unsafe environment eroding the rule of law.
The Department of Justice also stated that Trafficking of women for commercial sexual exploitation is another area of concern. India has ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNCTOC) including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children. But the country has yet to have an ‗inclusive‘ definition of trafficking for punishing all forms of trafficking. The Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (ITPA) has a definition of ‗prostitution‘ only. The composite definition of organised crime‘, is also required in the law related to trafficking (ITPA) as presently there are only certain provisions made to this effect under the Indian Penal Code.
The Chairperson, Committee on Empowerment of Women, was authorised by the Committee to submit the Report on their behalf, present this Nineteenth Report on the Victims of Sexual Abuse and Trafficking and their Rehabilitation‘. Taking into account the fact that women constitute about 48.5% of the country‘s total population and there has been recent spurt in crimes against women, the Committee on Empowerment of Women (2011-12) had selected this subject for detailed examination and Report to the Parliament. In view of vastness of the subject, the complexity of issues and stakeholders and the intricacies involved, the examination of the subject could not be completed during the term of the Committee on Empowerment of Women (2011-12). The Committee on Empowerment of Women (2012-13), therefore, re-selected the subject to continue further for examination. In all, 8 sittings of the Committee lasting about 13 hours were held in connection with the examination of this subject of considerable sensitivity and importance.