Over the years there has been a rise in the documented cases of harassment of women and children. This is partly due to the increased awareness of the masses and partly due to the electronic media that often makes a sensation out of incidents of harassment. Traditionally in India, women have been seen as the weaker sex confined to the house and also supposed to take everything in her stride. But with the spread of education and the effort made by eminent persons regarding women’s rights, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enacted. Other acts were also brought into effect with similar mandates.
Some of these are
- The Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 – which enabled the setting up of a national level commission as well as state level commissions to oversee the protection of child’s rights as well as the establishment of child courts. This was followed by the Commission for Protection of Child Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006.
- The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill, 2007 – which enabled an “aggrieved woman” against whom and act of sexual harassment has been committed, to seek protection, justice and redressal.
There are several other acts that have been in force prior to these above mentioned acts being implemented. But either people were not aware of them, or the government and judicial machinery did not take it upon themselves to implement these in the right spirit. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 has been in place for a long time but has not been effectively utilized. Working women were guaranteed protection from harassment when the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 and the Equal Remuneration Act 176 were implemented. But most women remain unaware of these and lack access to facilities guaranteed to them under these acts.
Harassment of women
Women face harassment from an early age. Some unfortunate women face harassment even before their birth. The prevalence of the practice of female infanticide in urban, suburban and rural areas is a testimony to this. Aborting female foetuses has been a common practice under one pretext or the other primarily due to the preference for male child among the masses. This may lead to a skewed sex ratio. This resulted in many states having less number of women compared to men. One peculiar outcome of this situation was that men of marriageable age were not able to find wives. Due to the concerns raised at various sections of the society the government was forced to bring the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 known more commonly as the Prohibition of Sex Selection Act 1994. Apart from this, women face harassment at their home of birth as well as their matrimonial homes. At their own homes they face harassment and abuse from their parents and sometimes molestation or forced sexual slavery from male members and relatives of the family and even neighbours. At their matrimonial homes, several unfortunate women face harassment and suffer abuses from their in-laws and husbands. They may also suffer from sexual abuse at the hands of the male members at their matrimonial homes and often their complaints are rebuffed. Other forms of harassment include being locked inside the house, being prevented from visiting their house of birth or meeting their parents, threat of abandonment or divorce, pressure to produce a child notably a male heir for the family, verbal and emotional abuse, denial of food, forced separation from their children, preventing the women from interacting with neighbours and restricting social interaction, harassment for dowry, beating and several other forms of physical torture. It is ironical that most of these actions are recognized as cruelty under the Indian Penal code and are punishable offences. It’s just that in almost all of these cases, women are unaware of their rights and the means of securing their rights like access to courts or seeking the help of social help groups and government institutions. Many women silently suffer as they do not have any means of financial support and depend entirely on their husbands for food clothing and shelter.
Those daring to take the case to the police face further hurdles as often these stations are manned by men who are insensitive to the woman’s plight and show an uncaring attitude. Women who do take up this challenge with courage face further hurdles at the court as they have to face procedural delays and harassment from the court employees. If they are uneducated then their plight gets magnified many fold. It is here that many NGOs and social service organizations sometimes step in to help the harassed woman get justice. But it is a sad state of affairs that many harassed and abused women instead of getting justice, end up on the streets or destitute centres or worse, fall easy prey to pimps and touts who force them into prostitution.
Harassment of children
Similarly many children too suffer from one form or harassment or the other. Harassment in the form or denial of proper and adequate food, care, love and affection, verbal and physical abuse, torture where the either one or both parents take out their frustration on the child, sexual abuse and molestation, emotional abuse, beatings and the threat of abandonment. This plays havoc with the development of the child into a well developed individual who can contribute to the nation’s growth.
To curtail and prevent harassment and abuse of children the government has put in place several acts. Some of these are
- Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1933.
- Children (Pledging of Labour) Act 1933.
- Young Persons Harmful Publication Act 1956.
- Prohibition Of Child Marriage Act 2006.
- Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2006.
- Prevention of Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2011 (pending with the parliament).
Under the Indian Penal Code some of the forms of cruelty and actions that are recognised as harassment and abuse are
- buying/selling a child (a minor) for the sake of prostitution
- abandoning children who have not achieved 12 years of age
- using a minor girl for the purpose of procreation with or without her consent
- importing a child (in most cases the girl child) for the purpose of prostitution
- forcing a child into marriage
- forcing a child to work as a labourer either as a bonded labour or exploiting the child through forced work and low wages
Inspite of such regulations being in place, women and children continue to be exploited, harassed and abused. It will take many more years, better education and awareness, an honest coverage by the media, but most importantly, a change in attitude of the masses to bring down the level of harassment and abuse. Till then there’s a lot of work to be done.