COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT

31 January 2000
WOM/1171

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT

31 January 2000

Press ReleaseWOM/1171

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT

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Although members of India’s scheduled castes had risen to the highest echelons of public service, old attitudes and mindsets remained and women bore the brunt of caste-based violence, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were told this morning.

Kiran Aggarwal, Secretary of the Department of Women and Child Development of India, responding to questions by expert members of the Committee on her country’s initial report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, said serious efforts had been made to implement the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. That law, as well as the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955, required state governments to undertake measures to penalize untouchability practices and atrocities. The Central Government coordinated the measures taken by the states and provided financial assistance.

On the issue of prostitution and trafficking in girls, she said the practice of dedicating girls to serve in Indian temples (devadasi) was dying out, but it had degenerated into forms of prostitution. The central and state governments had projects for the relief and rehabilitation of such girls. The police, customs and Ministry of External Affairs also coordinated action against the practice of newer forms of sexual exploitation.

A Plan of Action had been drawn up to combat trafficking and prostitution of women and children, she continued. Its objective was to reintegrate women and children who had been victims of that phenomenon into society.

As the discussion continued, Committee experts called for further strengthening of women’s organizations in the various religious communities and stressed the importance of accessibility for women to health centres. The importance of education for women was also stressed -– if the issue of female illiteracy were not more aggressively addressed, one expert said, girls would not be aware of their rights.

Aida Gonzalez Martinez of Mexico, Chairperson of the Committee, expressed satisfaction at the Indian Government’s intention to disseminate the contents of the review of India’s report, including the views of the experts, to all sectors. It would also be appropriate to disseminate it in Government circles, including the Interior Ministry and to those responsible for preparing the budget. That would facilitate a greater allocation of resources to the highlighted areas.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to hear responses to questions raised about the initial report of Myanmar.

Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee - 2 - Press Release WOM/1171 462nd Meeting (AM) 31 January 2000

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to continue considering the reports of States parties on the status of implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

It was expected to hear replies by the delegation of India to questions raised by the Committee’s experts about India’s initial report. [For background on that report, see Press Release WOM/1161 of 24 January.]

KIRAN AGGARWAL, Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development of India, responding to experts’ questions on mechanisms to monitor implementation of policies and laws for the equality of women, said that India had a mutually reinforcing system of institutions to do that. Those included the National Commission for Women, a parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women and the Planning Commission of Women.

Outlining the functions of the National Commission for Women, she said it was an autonomous, high-powered and statutory body, established to look into the cases of atrocities against women, gender discrimination, violation of provisions of the Constitution on rights of women, among other functions. She said it had a wide- ranging interaction with non-governmental organizations, through which it also disseminated information about its work.

Turning to the issue of gender sensitization of police personnel and civil servants, she said it was now a regular exercise in national and State-level training centres. She also noted that non-governmental organizations had a very strong presence in India and the Government welcomed their involvement in programmes and schemes for women. Also, the majority of programmes of her department were implemented through those bodies.

She stated that the Convention had been incorporated in India’s Constitution through legislative measures and amendments. To popularize the Convention, its text had been widely circulated within State Ministries and Departments as well as through national workshops.

A Plan of Action had been drawn up to combat trafficking and prostitution of women and children, she continued. Its objective was to reintegrate into society, women and children who had been victims of that phenomenon. However, while the practice of dedicating girls to serve in temples was dying, it had degenerated into forms of prostitution. The police, customs and the Ministry of External Affairs also coordinated action against the practice of those forms of sexual exploitation.

On the participation of women in society, she noted that women held a significant number of professional posts in international organizations, had a representative presence in Parliament and were active in the mass media. Referring to education of females, she noted that the Government was undertaking a number of literacy programmes to decrease the State’s illiteracy rate, and had implemented scholarship schemes to aid in the education of girls. Also, women constituted 28 per cent of the faculty in Indian universities, and 34 per cent of the total number of persons enrolled in graduate and post-graduate courses were women.

She said that the Government was currently working out a strategy to provide protection and benefits to women workers in the unorganized labour sector. In other areas dealing with the issue of women and labour, she noted that the Supreme Court had set out guidelines for preventing sexual harassment of women employees in the workplace.

She said illegal abortions still took place despite the existence of a law stipulating conditions for abortion. Septic abortions took place in illegal clinics. The Government was considering amending the law to delegate powers from the state to the district level. There was a programme to train and equip doctors, both in the Government and private sector, to conduct legal abortions.

She said there were about 2 million cancer cases at any given time and approximately 700,000 new cases every year. India had regional cancer centres and a National Cancer Control Programme introduced in 1975 and revamped in 1984. The Government provided funds to develop oncology wings in medical colleges.

She said serious efforts had been made to implement the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. Members of the community had risen to the highest echelons of public service, but old attitudes and mindsets did not disappear overnight. There were still areas of concern, and it was a fact that women, more often than not, bore the brunt of caste-based atrocities.

The Government had enacted the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which required the state governments to undertake measures to prove and penalize untouchability practices and atrocities, she said. The Central Government coordinated the measures taken by the states and provided financial assistance.

On harassment of women in armed conflicts, she said that while India had no armed conflict as defined in international humanitarian law, from time to time there had been severe outbreaks of terrorism and local insurgencies, such as in Jammu and Kashmir, the North-East and the Punjab. The terrorists had used violence against the local population, including women, as a matter of policy.

Indian security forces had defended the local population against systematic violence by the terrorists, she said. In their actions against the terrorists, they were nevertheless expected to act according to the highest possible standards, within parameters laid down by Indian laws, and to ensure that their actions did not violate the legal and human rights of their fellow citizens.

She said that the Armed Forces (Special Powers Act) of 1958 applied only in areas which were declared as disturbed areas by the Governor of a state. The Act did not grant security forces immunity from prosecution or other legal proceedings. It only provided that prosecution could not be taken up without the prior consent of the Central Government. That sanction was invariably granted whenever there was prima facie evidence against members of the Border Security Force for violation of human rights. For the army, in 31 cases where investigations had been completed and charges of human rights violations proved, 81 personnel, including 29 officers, had been punished.

Comments and Questions by Experts

An expert noted that resource allocation to programmes for women and children, as well as the family, seemed insufficient. Based on the Convention, priority must be given to women in development.

It was imprudent not to have registration of marriage in certain cases, she continued. Without registration, it would be impossible to enforce restraint under certain marriage laws. There was also an interconnection between education of girls and early marriage. If the issue of female illiteracy was not more aggressively addressed, girls would not be aware of their rights.

She stated that a “complaints” procedure should be established in the National Commission for Women. Apart from the regulatory framework on non- governmental organizations, the possibility of violence against women activists needed to be addressed. Also, in terms of human rights laws, infringement of security forces on those rights must be scrutinized through national machinery.

Another expert said that the National Commission for Women did not seem to be able to adequately perform its functions. Apparently, many of its recommendations to the State had not been implemented. Was the Commission really empowered to intervene in cases where violence had been perpetrated against women? she asked. Did it have legal and research cells to exercise its mandate? The Commission should be the primary body to disseminate the Convention. That the Convention had been translated only into Hindi was not enough -- it should also be translated in all the states’ languages and monitored by the Commission.

She noted the number of provisions to regulate the rights of dalit women. However, they were more service-oriented and programmatic in nature and lacking in political will. The first legislation governing their betterment had been enacted over 50 years ago. The Committee was not only concerned with discrimination against those women, but also with the indirect infringement of their rights, particularly in areas of employment, education and health.

Another expert called for further strengthening of women’s organizations in the various religious communities. She asked the Government of India to consider signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

Another expert stressed the importance of accessibility to health centres, which must be part of any holistic approach to health issues. She said there was a gender perspective to smoking of tobacco and other substances. Those substances would have different effects on women than on men.

Ms. AGGARWAL said she would ensure that the Government received the Committee’s views, including the request by one expert that greater resources be allocated to women’s issues.

AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ of Mexico, Committee Chairperson, said that if women did not have the education to understand their role in society, they would not be able to grasp their own rights.

She said that violence against women by agents of the State had been a matter of great concern to the Committee. It was also concerned about the question of amendments to personal and family laws. Rather than wait for communities to

propose changes to those laws, it was important to give them an incentive to encourage them to seek change.

Expressing satisfaction at the Government’s intention to disseminate the contents of the review of India's report, including the views of the experts, to all sectors, she said it would also be appropriate to disseminate it in Government circles, including the Interior Ministry and to those responsible for preparing the budget. That would facilitate a greater allocation of resources to the highlighted areas.

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For information media. Not an official record.