COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF INDIA
2 July 2014
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of India on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Presenting the reports, Shankar Aggarwal, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development of India, said that over the last few years, new legislation had been enacted, such as the 2013 amendments to the criminal law which included new offences, widened the definition of rape and the provisions for aggravated rape, and increased the penalty, including capital punishment, for gang rape. Other legislation addressed food and nutritional security, manual scavenging, protection of children from sexual offences, and sexual harassment of women in the workplace. A High Level Committee on the Status of Women had been set up in 2012 to undertake a comprehensive study into the status of women and develop appropriate policy interventions, while the National Commission for Women had been mandated to review constitutional and legal safeguards for women and recommend remedial measures.
Committee Members asked about the status of the Convention in domestic legislation, budgetary allocations for women, and the temporary special measures to improve the representation of women in political life. Violence against women in conflict situations was cited as an issue of great concern, as was the enforcement of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which provided impunity to members of the armed forces. Experts were concerned about violence against women of disadvantaged backgrounds, such as Dalit, and asked what was being done to address this violence and ensure access to justice for victims. Trafficking in persons, although criminalized, remained a significant problem, with 90 per cent of cases being internal trafficking. Women and girls were trafficked for forced labour and forced marriage, organ harvesting and commercial sexual exploitation.
The delegation of India included representatives of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Human Resource Development, and the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Mr. Aggarwal, in his closing remarks, reiterated India’s commitment to continue the work on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and said that India would seek to advance the legal framework and its effective implementation; civil society and private sectors were equal partners in this process, he stressed.
Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, encouraged India to take all necessary measures to implement the provisions of the Convention, including through strengthening its legal framework, particularly in the field of violence.
The Committee will reconvene on Thursday, 3 July at 10 a.m. to consider the combined second and third periodic reports of Mauritania (CEDAW/C/MRT/2-3).
The combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of India can be read here: CEDAW/C/IND/4-5.
Presentation of the Report
SHANKAR AGGARWAL, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development of India, introducing the reports said that according to the latest census, the population of India stood at 1.2 billion, with women representing 48.5 per cent. India was the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy, and enjoyed socio-economic, cultural and geographic diversity, which was its strength but also posed challenges to policy-makers. National and international attention had recently been drawn to incidents of violence against women, which were not widespread, and people, civil society and the media had stood up very strongly against such crimes and called for urgent action to punish the perpetrators. Over the last few years, significant steps had been taken to improve transparency and efficiency, leading to a rights-based approach; new legislation had been enacted, including the Right to Information Act, Right to Public Services Act, Citizen Charter, E-Governance and others. Key development goals for women were gender equality and empowerment using strategies such as economic empowerment, social and physical infrastructure, enabling legislation, women’s participation in governance, inclusion of all vulnerable and marginalized women, and gender sensitive policies and programmes.
The landmark legislation, the National Food Security Act 2013, aimed to ensure food and nutritional security to identified eligible households, with specific provisions for women and children; it gave the right to receive an adequate quantity of food grains at subsidized prices to about two thirds of the population, and provided age appropriate free meals to pregnant and lactating women, among others. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 included comprehensive amendments in the laws to cover the varied nature of sexual offences committed against women, and included offences such as acid attacks and sexual harassment, while the definition of rape had been widened to include non-penetrative sex. Provisions for aggravated rape had been widened to include rape committed by a person in a position of dominance, a member of the armed forces, rape committed during communal or sectarian violence, or on a woman incapable of giving consent. Increased penalty, including capital punishment, had been provided for gang rape and for causing serious injury to the victim. Other legislation addressed manual scavenging, the protection of children from sexual offences, and sexual harassment of women in the workplace.
The Gender Budget Statement, a part of the Union Budget, had emerged as an important tool for reporting allocations for women; the number of Ministries reflecting their schemes and programmes had increased to 30 and the gender budget now stood at 5.83 per cent. The Government had set up in 2012 a High Level Committee on the Status of Women, composed of representatives of civil society and other stakeholders, to undertake a comprehensive study into the status of women and develop appropriate policy intervention, while the National Commission for Women had been mandated to review constitutional and legal safeguards for women and recommend remedial measures. India was cognizant of the enormous challenges on the policy front and the implementation of existing policies; new path breaking legislation protecting women from violence had been adopted as well as amendments in the existing legislation to address the gaps. The challenge now was to ensure adequate training and capacity building of all persons at all levels.
Questions from the Experts
Committee Experts started the interactive dialogue by asking questions about the Convention, its status in the legislation and its visibility, recalling that the national legislation did not ensure the full implementation of Article 1 on elimination of all forms of discrimination; the status of ratification of the Optional Protocol; and cooperation with civil society on the implementation of the Convention.
Another Expert commended India for the impressive number of programmes and initiatives for women which were in the pipeline, and asked, concerning violence against women in situations of conflict, about the status of implementation of recommendations made by the Justice Verma Committee; criminal responsibility of military staff perpetrating violence against women in zones of conflict and the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act; communal violence in Gujarat; and about the involvement of women in peace negotiations in north and east India. There were reports that the housing project in Sri Lanka had not benefitted women and an Expert asked whether an impact review of this programme was being planned.
Concerning the upcoming amendments of the National Commission for Women, an Expert asked where the proposals to amend came from, the substance of the amendments and the involvement of civil society. What were the gaps and challenges that the Ministry of Women and Child Development faced? Why was expenditure on women still so small across the sectors?
Other issues raised by Experts concerned the institutional relationship between the various commissions and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Responses by the Delegation
Regarding the status of the Convention, based on several supreme court rulings, it was clear that domestic courts were obliged to give due regard to international law and that law prohibited discrimination against women. Training programmes on the provisions of the Convention were being regularly conducted for law enforcement officials, judiciary, army and general public, while human rights education was included in the school curriculum. The Indian Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination based on sex and those laws extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. India translated its international obligations in domestic laws as per the duality principle whereby national implementing legislation must be in place before a treaty was ratified. The text of the Convention was translated in Hindi and a number of states had translated it into their local vernaculars. India had not ratified the Optional Protocol because the national legal and judicial framework was sufficient to guarantee respect of women’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
India had huge issues of securing its borders, particularly in the north and east, and the armed forces needed special protection to take action against extremists. It was clear that misuse of the Act was unacceptable and very stern action was taken against any armed force personnel who committed violations. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act would not be repealed, but the Government ensured that the legislation was regularly reviewed; wherever the situation in the field normalized, the Act would be suspended. Concerning communal violence in Gujarat, the head of delegation referred to the decision of the Supreme Court which had appointed the Special Investigation Team and provided detailed information about investigations and prosecutions. A delegate said that the Government had provided cash and other support to residents of camps established in the aftermath of the Gujarat violence; 85 new colonies had been established and they received significant Government support. There were special schemes providing support to women victims of violence, such as training, cash support, pensions and others.
The head of delegation said that India aimed to allocate 30 per cent of the budget to the needs of women and recalled that the current budgetary allocation for women was 5.83 per cent; it was to be borne in mind that quite a large proportion of the State’s resources was allocated for children, who also included girls under the age of 18, and that women empowerment did not require large financial resources. It was not the case that the budget was inadequate, but it was a question of the lack of tools to identify budgetary resources dedicated to women.
The National Mission for Empowerment of Women had set up a specific mechanism for the empowerment of women and had undertaken a number of initiatives, such as improving the child sex ratio, and empowering rural women by making them digitally literate. The National Commission for Women was entirely independent and had 94 members; its budget over the past three years had been increasing steadily. It had national jurisdiction except for Jammu and Kashmir which had its own National Commission. The High Level Committee for Women had been established to conduct a study into the status of women, and this report was due shortly. The National Commission for Women was a permanent body.
Questions from the Experts
Committee Experts commended India for adopting temporary special measures to increase the participation of women in political life at the village and communal levels, and said that it was regrettable that the 1996 Women’s Representation Bill giving women 30 per cent of seats had not yet been passed. What efforts were being taken to provide temporary special measures for the disadvantaged groups in India, who were mainly women, such as Dalit or disabled women who suffered multiple forms of discrimination?
Stereotypes were an underlying cause for many forms of violence against women; what was being done to ensure that Government officials did not support or justify stereotypes in their public speeches? The 2005 law on the protection of women from domestic violence was commendable; how was it being implemented and how was the reported abuse of this law by enforcement officials handled? Experts were concerned about violence against women of disadvantaged backgrounds, such as Dalit, and asked what was being done to address this violence and ensure access to justice to victims. How was the Government addressing the proliferation of small arms which had a direct link with violence against women? Did India intend to criminalize marital rape?
Trafficking in persons, although criminalized, remained a significant problem in India; women and girls were trafficked for forced labour, forced marriage, organ harvesting and sexual exploitation. Internal trafficking comprised 90 per cent of all cases. Data collection and protection services for victims were inadequate. What measures were in place to ensure access to justice and support to victims, and what was the status of the Roadmap to combat trafficking in persons? Abject poverty was the root cause of prostitution; how was it addressed and what support was provided to victims?
Sex selection at birth was the greatest form of violence against women and it also greatly impacted the sex ratio in the population; what were the main policies to overcome it?
Responses by the Delegation
The Government was committed to ensuring the security of each and every person in the country and there were measures in place to address violence against women which were very deterrent. The head of delegation said that in many cases the media distorted statements made by state officials and reiterated the commitment to make women safe and secure. India was setting up One Stop Centre operations in each district to provide the medial, legal and police aid to victims of violence which would be run by non-governmental organizations. A delegate said that preventing violence against women was an area of utmost priority for the Government which had undertaken various legislative and administrative measures, with stringent penalties for offenders.
The Government was committed to ensuring the full participation of women in the public sphere but could not put a timeline on the approval of the Women Representation Bill. Concerning marital rape, the delegation stressed that the 2005 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act protected women from all forms of violence, including sexual. The measures taken to address trafficking in persons included the creation in 2006 of the Anti-Trafficking Cell, the establishment in 2014 of the web portal on trafficking which was a vital tool to share information among the stakeholders for the effective implementation of anti-trafficking measures, and a number of training and capacity building activities. All the facilities available to citizens were extended to foreign victims of trafficking.
Tackling violence against women of disadvantaged backgrounds was the Government’s highest priority, which had in place legislation and institutional machinery at different levels of the Government, including Monitoring and Vigilance Committees at district levels. Important strides were being made to ensure access to justice, including providing free legal services to weaker segments of the population. The Ministry of Justice was running an Access to Justice project which focused on strengthening access to justice for marginalized and poor people, particularly the poor, women, castes and minorities; in addition to a number of individual initiatives, the programme also had in place a dedicated fund to provide the necessary resources for the projects and also for innovative legal strategies.
Sex selection at birth was illegal, but it was very hard to monitor the implementation of the act and to prove that women and their families were practicing it. This culturally ingrained practice was an issue of great concern to the Government, which hoped that technology would help to track each and every pregnancy.
Questions from the Experts
The Committee welcomed the commitment to providing greater participation of women in the Upper and Lower House and noted that the percentage of women in those bodies was still low; how would the process of the adoption of the proposed bill be expedited and what capacity building measures and resources were in place to ensure the equal participation of women in political life, the judiciary and the police?
Response by the Delegation
Concerning the representation of women in political and public life, and notably in parliament, the head of delegation reiterated India’s commitment to reserve places for women in parliament, but was unable to give a timeframe or exact percentage of representation. There was no discrimination against women in the judiciary because all appointments to the Supreme and Higher Courts were on the basis of merit, and not on the basis of sex, tribe, caste or class. The delegation acknowledged the gap between the legal provisions and their implementation in practice and said that the size of the country and its population and their diversity posed a particular challenge to the implementation of the laws. There were not too many instances of internal displacement in the country; when displacement did occurred, women were provided with services such as housing, food or employment if relevant.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert commended India for seeing education as an essential right and for the promulgation of the Right to Education Act and asked about the achievements and lessons learned from the ongoing programme, temporary special measures to increase enrolment and retention of girls aged 14-18, interventions to address the 64 per cent drop out rate for girls, mainly from the Dalit, Muslim and tribes, and access to vocational training for girls.
Women constituted only 26 per cent of the workforce in India, said another Expert and asked about steps to ensure the equal participation of women in the labour market, to address the wage gap and about the traditional practice of devadesi, or sexual exploitation of women, criminalized in 1988.
While India had experienced a reduction in maternal mortality rates to 178 in 100,000, disparity still existed in access to health services, making women in rural areas, adolescent pregnant girls, and minorities more likely to suffer higher mortality rates. More than three decades after the adoption of the law on the medical termination of pregnancy, eight per cent of all maternal mortality was from unsafe abortions.
Response by the Delegation
It was true that maternal mortality rates continued to be a concern across the country, although the decrease in the number of maternal deaths was faster than on the global scale; India hoped that it would achieve the Millennium Development Goals on maternal mortality, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis by 2015. India had introduced a concept of reproductive health and included care at key levels: infancy, childhood, adolescence and maternal health. India had one of the lowest public spending on health and the current plan was to increase it. An expert group was in place to identify key priorities and evidence-based interventions for universal access to maternal health. Access to safe abortion must be a key priority in the fight to reduce maternal mortality rates, and to this end, India had trained 8,000 doctors, ensured safe abortion services in about 8,000 primary health centres across the country, and provided access to modern contraceptives. Child marriages were banned; if a girl was married before the age of 15, the husband was charged with marital rape, while marriage of girls under 18 and men under 21 were declared void.
India was committed to upholding the rights of persons with disabilities and in May 2012 had set up a separate Department of Disability Affairs in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill had been introduced in parliament in February 2014 and proposed to address the access to education, skill development and employment, reservation in central and state government posts, and the formation of National and State Commissions.
The participation of women in the labour market was very low, as was the access of women to vocational education. There were a number of initiatives and schemes in the country to increase the access of women to training and employment, and the State encouraged the recruitment of women through a number of measures, such as waving recruitment fees, ensuring that both husband and wife were posted to the same duty stations, and others. India was supposed to be a world leader in information technology, but so far was unable to take jobs to rural and semi-urban areas and to employ women.
Concerning education, the delegation said that India had a very positive experience with independent data collection and analysis and studies into specific issues, such as out of school children; the results of those studies and reports were shared with the concerned authorities which were responsible for remedial action. Also, results and lessons learned from those monitoring and evaluation exercises were regularly fed into programme design and implementation. There were over 3,000 residential schools for girls in the country, which ensured schooling for girls from disadvantaged groups, including out of school girls and girls from areas where female literacy was below the national average. In February this year, the guidance on corporal punishment in school had been issued by the Government. Today, not a single school was occupied by the armed forces; the last school was in Kashmir and had been vacated two or three months ago. It was heartening to note that the allocation to primary education had increased by 150 per cent since 2008, irrespective of the economic and financial crisis and the austerity measures.
Questions from the Experts
According to the World Bank data, 32.7 per cent of the Indian population lived below the absolute poverty line of 1.25 USD per day, which in fact was a real indicator of economic empowerment. Rather than providing figures on gender budgeting, the Committee was more interested in macro-policies, including policies to support disadvantaged women.
The rural population constituted 68 per cent of the total population, and the majority were women; the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act of 2013, however, still marginalized women in ownership and access to land. The Committee asked whether India was considering the adoption of the Food and Agricultural Organization Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, and whether compensation would be provided to women who would lose their land because of the India-Nepal dam.
The personal status law still prevailed in India in matters of family, marriage and property and the situation of plural legal systems violated the provisions of the Convention. What was being done to eradicate the practice of child marriage?
Response by the Delegation
The definition of the poverty line varied between organizations, said the head of delegation, and added that about 22 per cent of the population of India lived below the poverty line. Citing the McKinsey Global Institute study on reducing poverty levels, he spoke about the empowerment line which took into account not only income, but also access to health, education, energy, water and other basic services; no effort would be spared to ensure that Indian people were brought above the empowerment line. There was a strong will that women from disadvantaged groups would be protected and given a helping hand in their economic growth. Very stringent punishments were given to perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment of school children.
A High Level Committee had been set up to present findings on the state of women to the Government; it was expected to submit a report shortly on the basis of which policies for women would be crafted.
The delegation clarified that the land belonging to indigenous peoples or scheduled tribes could only be sold to another tribe member. In urban areas, all property was inherited by all eligible children, including daughters; in case of a will, its provisions were respected. All steps were being taken to ensure access to basic services to rural women, including drinking water, sanitation and health, including through telemedicine.
The Government did not intervene into personal status laws, and it was clear that in the case of conflict, the laws of the land prevailed. Voiding all child marriages would cause huge problems and it was a work in progress. Child marriage was a deeply concerning issue and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 had been enacted; there were gaps in its implementation and there was a need to look at it as a holistic problem. Abject and long-lasting poverty and lack of awareness were among its root causes. Measures taken to eradicate its practice included the establishment of child marriage prohibition officers in more than 20 states, awareness raising, regulation of rules prohibiting child marriage by each state, and others.
The delegation clarified that all people living in the territory of India at the time of independence were indigenous of India, and the use of the term “indigenous peoples” by the Committee caused some confusion. India instead used the term tribal people, whose rights were covered by special legislation and had a dedicated Ministry for Tribal Affairs.
SHANKAR AGGARWAL, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development of India, in his closing remarks, thanked the Committee Experts for their comments and constructive engagement. India would continue to work to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women through the empowerment of women and protecting them from violence so that they could contribute to national development as equal partners. India reiterated its commitment to the promotion and protection of the human rights of its people and would seek to advance the legal framework and its effective implementation. All citizens, including civil society and the private sector, were equal participants in this process. India looked forward to receiving the Committee’s recommendations so that it could implement them appropriately with targeted programmes and policies.
NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the information and encouraged India to take all necessary measures to implement the Convention. India should strengthen its legal framework to enable the effective implementation of the Convention, in particular in the field of violence.
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