March 3-International Sex Workers Rights Day- demand for decriminalisation of Sex work #Vaw #Womenrights


March 3, 2013,  Kamayani Bali Mahabal

The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organizers, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002): “We felt strongly that that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sexworkers [Female,Male,Transgender], we proposed to observe 3rd March as THE SEX WORKERS RIGHTS DAY.

Durbar seeks to build a world where all marginalized communities live in an environment of respect, rights and dignity. Durbar hopes for a new social order where there is no discrimination by class, caste, gender or occupation and all individuals communities live in peace and harmony as global citizens.The Durbar MissionDurbar’s shared mission is to enhance a process of social and political change with an objective to establish, promote and strengthen the rights, dignity, social status, and improvement of the quality of life of all sex worker communities. Durbar wishes to integrate the sex workers movement with the broader global movement to establish rights of all marginalized communities in the globe through.
Improvement of image and self-esteem of marginalized communities.Influencing existing norms, policies and practices, operating at all levels in the society and out the nation state.Empowering communities through a process of collectivisation and capacity building and Addressing power relations within the trade and outside. Durbar is also Building Formal and informal alliances with individuals, groups, institutions and movements..

Research has demonstrated that the criminalization of sex work is associated with violence against sex workers, decreased access to health care, barriers to reporting human rights abuses, and disempowerment in condom negotiation (whether a sex worker’s wishes regarding condom use are respected). Governments should recognize and address the relationship between laws criminalizing sex work and the human rights violations that result from these laws.

Affirmation and defense of the rights of sex workers as an integral part of our work to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right.   International Sex Workers Rights Day isn’t just about securing the rights of sex workers; it’s about securing human rights.

Sex work is criminalized either through direct prohibitions on selling sexual services for money or through laws tha tprohibit solicitation of sex, living off of the earnings of sexwork, brothel-keeping, or procuring sexual services.Inaddition, sex workers are frequently prosecuted for non-
criminal offenses—often municipal-level administrative offenses—such as loitering, vagrancy, and impeding the flow of traffic. By reducing the freedom of sex workers to negotiate condom use with clients, organize for fair treatment, and publicly advocate for their rights, criminalization and aggressive policing have been shown to increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, extortion, and health risks.
Decriminalization is an issue of gender equality and sexual rights.Laws against sex work intrude into private sexual behaviors and constitute a form of state control over the bodies of women and transgender women, who make up a large majority of sex workers worldwide.like state controls over reproductive rights and limits on abortion, criminal laws prohibiting sex work attempt to legislate morality without regard for bodily autonomy. Decriminalizing sex work is a step in the direction of recognizing the right of all people to privacy and freedom from undue state control over sex and sexual expression.
Decriminalization refers to the removal of all criminal and administrative prohibitions and penalties on sex work, including laws targeting clients and brothel owners. Removing criminal prosecution of sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognizing sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards. Decriminalizing sex work allows workers to access financial services like bank accounts and insurance and other financial services.
Moreover,decriminalization means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, and fear of violence.To effectively protect the health and rights of sex workers,governments must remove all criminal laws regulating sex work, including laws that criminalize the purchase of sex. Systems that maintain criminal penalties for clients who purchase sexual services continue to put sex workers at risk. Rather than ending demand for sex work, penalties on clients force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations, which increases the risk of violence and limits the power of the sex workers in the transaction.When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are empowered to realize their right to work safely, and to use the justice system to s eek redress for abuses and discrimination.Even if sex work is decriminalized, the prostitution of minors and human trafficking can and should remain criminal acts.
Criminal laws contribute to social marginalization not only through the imposition of legal penalties on sex workers prosecuted for specific acts,
but also through the assignment of criminal status to all sex workers,regardless of any particular arrest, charge, or prosecution.This sweeping
condemnation leads to widespread discrimination, stigma, and illtreatment in social institutions and services, by health providers, police,
and the general public. Decriminalization removes one source of stigma,the criminal label that serves to validate mistreatment or social exclusion.

In India, Sex workers are unhappy with Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations which, according to them, equate human trafficking with sex work and define prostitution as exploitation.The proposed Section 370 in the ordinance seeks to include prostitution as a form of exploitation. If this is accepted, it would criminalize sex workers since it does not differentiate between coercive prostitution and prostitution. Neither does it talk about the exploitation of prostitution.

For decades we have been demanding decriminalization of sex work, dignity of labour for sex workers and protection from exploitation by various sections of the society, including clients, goons and police.Terming prostitution ‘exploitation’ contradicts the Supreme Court which upheld the rights of women employed in sex work while observing that Article 21 grants them a right to live with dignity.

It also goes against the commitment made by India, which is a signatory and has ratified the UN Protocol on human trafficking in 2011.

According to this, Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.Instead of protection of sex workers, the ordinance will make them more vulnerable to exploitation and snatch away their livelihood.The inclusion of voluntary and consenting sex work into the definition of exploitation has angered sex workers.It will be a big setback to our struggle to get recognition of sex work as work, social protection for sex workers and assuring them workers’ rights.

The first pan-India survey of female sex workers was done  in 2011 under the aegis of Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization, Sangli, was conducted by Rohini Sahni and V Kalyan Shakar of the Department of Economics, University of Pune. This unique survey documents the lived realities of sex workers; delves into the complex details of their day-to-day interactions; the stigma and marginalization they experience and attempts to understand the challenges they face as well as their complex responses. The survey pools together a large national level sample of 3000 unorganized sex workers from 14 states. The women who participated in the survey are from various geographies, ages, family backgrounds, languages, sites of operation, migratory patterns, incomes and cultures.

The videos below

 

Pakistan’s human rights review: Internet censorship comes under scrutiny


Published: November 3, 2012

Netherlands asks Islamabad to remove restrictions on internet access. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: As part of a review of Pakistan’s human rights standing, the Netherlands has recommended that Pakistan remove restrictions on internet access.

The recommendation is part of a draft report of the UN Human Rights Council working group on the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan.

In the draft report, released on November 2, the working group has listed this demand along with 163 other recommendations on the country’s rights record.

The video sharing site, YouTube, has been suspended in Pakistan since September 17, 2012.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ordered the ban over a blasphemous movie trailer that incited protests around the world.

It is the fourth time the site has been banned since 2008.

Second review

Pakistan presented its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Report in the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, October 30. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar defended Pakistan’s progress since the last review in 2008. The Review, created in 2006, takes place every four years and is a state-driven process.

Pakistan will have to respond to the recommendations by March 2013 at the 22nd session of the Council. The response will then be included in the outcome report adopted by the Council in that session.

“It is a great opportunity as it is now part of UN Human Rights Council’s recommendations to the government and we can continue to build pressure on the government to do better on net freedom in the country,” said Shahzad Ahmad from Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan, a human rights organisation that focuses on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for social justice and development in the country.

Ahmad presented a shadow report along with two UN accredited international NGOs, Association for Progressive Communications and Freedom House.

“This is first time ever that a shadow report on internet rights in Pakistan was submitted and a UN member state picked it up and put it as a recommendation for the government to improve internet rights in the country,” he wrote to The Express Tribune in an email from Geneva.

Internet-based human rights

Netherlands made the recommendation that Pakistan “(r)emove restrictions on accessing internet in the country, which runs counter to the criteria of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and the principle of proportionality.”

Internet-based human right issues were not part of Pakistan’s first review in 2008. President Asif Ali Zardari signed the ICCPR in June 2010 and made Pakistan signatory to the law which commits it to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to a fair trial.

 

 

I Have Repeatedly Received Death Threats – Frederica Jansz, former editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader


By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

22 September, 2012
Srilankaguardian.org

Founder hacked to death in daylight his successor sacked the future of the “Sunday Leader” questioned 

(September 21, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Here is an exclusive interview with the former editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader , Frederica Jansz just moments after she was forced to resign by the new ownership of the paper, due to her refusing to accepted new editorial policy.

NI. Frederica, welcome to the Sri Lanka Guardian. Your services as the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader have been terminated as you refused to change editorial policy to support the government. What did they (owners) ask you to do? What are the basic points that you cannot stand with?

FJ. The new owner Asanga Seneviratne insisted that the articles carried in The Sunday Leader are “malicious and rubbish.” He ordered me to stop being critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family. He also asked me stop carrying cartoons of the President. He then added to a police complaint made by Sajin Vass Gunewardena, which claimed that a nutshell carried in The Sunday Leader of September 16 would incite violence against the President.

Despite my maintaining that the type of journalism practised at The Sunday Leader was independent and unbiased he could not understand or accept this position. As for me, I cannot work for someone who does not understand or respect freedom of expression or journalistic independence and credibility.

NI. You are the editor who took sole responsibility of the Sunday Leader just after the assassination of the late Lasantha. What are the challenges you faced in the last couple of years?

FJ. The challenges have been huge. Apart from having to revive a newspaper that had suffered a staggering blow following Lasantha’s assassination, I have had to deal with continuous harassment and threats including court cases and finally being insulted and maligned in a manner most degrading by the Defence Secretary, the President’s brother.

NI. Do you and your family feel safe to stay in the country?

FJ. No. I have repeatedly received death threats and even been followed home.

NI. I don’t want to reiterate words that the country’s secretary defence used in a recent interview published by the Leader. You had bitter experiences many times when you were directly dealing with those key players in the country. Can you brief us on the present political system in the country?

FJ. In terms of media freedom, the current political system will continue to stifle free of expression and the right to information. If compared to a thriving democracy, Sri Lanka continues to lag far far behind.

NI. At some point we talked about “Sri Lankan Journalism”. Do you have anything special to share with the people in this crucial time?

FJ. It is sad that journalists in Sri Lanka have chosen to be cowed into submission. Next to winning the war, this in fact is this government’s second biggest success. The stifling of the local press.

NI. This is a worse stage of social control in the country by the regime. So now the Government has taken over most of print, electronic and other media, while giving the public a clear cut picture on censorship. What would be the future if this scenario continues?

FJ. An autocratic regime. With a stifled press accountability and transparency are non-existent.

NI. Do you think the opposition and the civil society can intervene to solve this stalemate?

FJ. The opposition is dead.

NI. Is there any role to be played by the international community?

FJ. I frankly do not think this government really gives a toss about the international community or what they may think or say. Other than China – and we all know their track record as far as freedom of expression is concerned.

NI. Most people welcomed the draft resolution by the US on Sri Lanka, which urges the implementation of recommendations given by the LLRC. The people of Sri Lanka expect that the government will be encouraged in the Universal Periodic Review to take gradual action, not only at the legislative level, but beyond that to implement basic principles of rule of law. Do you have any suggestions to the UPR which is going to have on next month?

FJ. Amongst the voluntary commitments undertaken by Sri Lanka, one is to “strengthen its national mechanisms and procedures to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens through the adoption and implementation of the proposed National Plan of Action”. Despite the government promising to implement the targets set out in the plan by 2009, it was only in 2012 that the initial stages of implementation were underway.

NI. This is my final question. You were a remarkable and fearless editor who worked in a tremendously stressful social situation. What is your plan for the future?

FJ. Change is a part of life. So for me, this is just another opportunity for a new beginning.

India should accept UN recommendation to repeal AFSPA: Human Rights Watch


NEW YORK: A leading human rights group today asked India to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, impose a moratorium on the death penalty and accept other recommendations of UN member states to address the country’s “most serious human rights problems”.It also asked Indian government to respond to concerns that the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act can be abused to restrict civil society organisations from promoting human rights by limiting their access to foreign.

The UN member states at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May this year had made wide-ranging recommendations calling upon India to ratify multinational treaties against torture and enforced disappearances, repeal AFSPA, introduce an anti-discrimination law and protect the rights of women, children, dalits, tribal groups, religious minorities, and other groups at risk.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Indian government has promised a “comprehensive response” to the UPR’s 169 recommendations and will submit its responses during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council.

It said there are expectations that the Indian government will make serious efforts and not mere “lame” assertions to address its human rights problems.

“The Indian government should make a serious effort to carry out these recommendations instead of simply pointing to existing legislation or policies,” South Asia director at Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly said.

“What is needed is a strong commitment to transparency and accountability to protect human rights, not more lame assertions of good intentions,” she said.

“India should accept the recommendations by United Nations member states at the UPR to address the country’s most serious human rights problems,” the group said in a statement.

During its 2012 review, the Indian government set out the fundamental rights provided by the constitution, judicial pronouncements, the Right to Information Act, the Right to Education Act of 2009 and the NationalFood Security Bill to demonstrate the government’s commitment to protect human rights.

The government however “downplayed” abuses by security forces and the role of AFSPA in facilitating these abuses, HRW claimed.

The government asserted that most complaints of army and paramilitary abuses were found to be false, and said the Act had been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“But the government failed to note that it has ignored measures to prevent abuses outlined in the Supreme Court ruling,” the rights group said.

The UPR is the mechanism to examine the human rights records of all 192 UN member states and provides an opportunity for each state, every four years, to explain what actions it has taken to improve respect for human rights in its own country.

There’s much to answer on human rights for India


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4th June 2012, Pioneer

India did not have many convincing replies to questions that it faced at a recently held UN human rights meet. Its representative was either evasive or simply did not respond to specific queries on caste and communal conflicts, says Suhas Chakma 

 

On May 24, the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed India’s human rights record during the 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. In his introductory remarks, head of the Indian delegation, Attorney General GE Vahanvati discarded the role of the UN by stating that India has self-correcting mechanisms in place. India by and large stuck to its 22-page National Report which was lettered mostly with constitutional provisions and success stories but failed to highlight human rights problems.

While Sudan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines had only praise for India, a large number  of other countries raised questions including the status of the Prevention of Torture Bill, the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; ratification of the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances; ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; abolition or moratorium on death penalty; ratifications of the ILO Conventions number 138, 155, 169, 173 and 182; withdrawal of India’s reservation to Article 16 of the UN Convenation Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW Convention; protection/rehabilitation to victims of trafficking; comprehensive anti-discriminatory legislation and adequate means of redress; prevention of caste violence and implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act; repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Queries were also raised over the prosecution of security forces responsible for human rights violations; reform of the law enforcement bodies; strengthening control over the police forces and sensitisation of Armed forces towards human rights; human rights in school curriculum; access to justice and improvement of the judicial system; National Human Rights Action Plan; restriction on internet freedom; poverty alleviation, food security, health, sanitation, nutrition and drinking water, maternal and child mortality; protection of religious minorities, repeal of the anti-conversion laws and the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill; status of the measures to address corruption; protection of the Human Rights Defenders and enactment of a law for protection of the HRDs; strengthening independence of National Human Rights Institutions; ratification of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; status of the NREGA; ratification of the Third Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to communication procedures; allocation of more resources for enjoyment of economic and social rights especially in favour of vulnerable groups like women, children, poor people and minorities, etc.

It is not only the Western states but Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Maldives from Asia, and Botswana and Ghana from Africa also asked India to ratify the UNCAT. Argentina and Chile from Latin America recommended a moratorium on the death penalty.

Among the issues raised, the Indian delegation replied only to those relating to the status of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, prosecution of the security forces, refugees, human rights education, the Right to Information Act, torture, restrictions on internet, MNREGA, children with disabilities, HIV, human rights defenders, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, the AFSPA, National Human Rights Action Plan, child labour, domestic violence, marriage and women’s equal right to property, socio economic caste census, sanitation and safe drinking water and India’s reservation to the CEDAW.

The responses of the Indian delegation were evasive and misleading. India was not only evasive on the question of prosecution of the security forces but also on combating caste violence. Mr Vahanvati did not directly answer questions relating to caste discrimination, but in his final remarks he stated, “India is an ancient country with strong social traditions. Some of these traditions may now be out of tune with modern values. They have to change. But in a democracy, these can only be done in an inclusive manner involving all through persuasion, education, and development. We are conscious of the need for change and promoting it through legislation and social awareness.”

The statement did not reflect the fact that the Union Government had to convene the State Home Ministers’ Conference on Effective Implementation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in New Delhi on April 17 to discuss non-implementation of the Power of Attorney reflected from high pendency and low conviction rate of the cases.

India justified many of its questionable measures on the grounds of “terrorism and armed insurgency”. Regrettably, there was no specific question relating to violence in India manifested in armed conflicts in 21 out of 28 States. Throughout the examination, India appeared to be a land of peace and not ‘India: Million Mutinies Now’ as described by VS Naipaul much before the Maoists multiplied the armed conflicts in the heart of Indian. In all these conflicts, women have been victims of multiple violations but not a single question was raised on violence against women in conflict situations.

Just the way coalition political compulsion has become the excuse at national level, at the UN the Union Government sought to hide itself on its inability to speculate on parliamentary process and federalism with respect to pro-human rights bills. While that is true of the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, with respect to the Prevention of Torture Bill, it is the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which simply failed to introduce the Bill despite an all- party Parliamentary Select Committee submitting the draft in December 2010.

The Indian delegation also misled the UN on internet freedom. India’s delegation responded that the current restrictions imposed by the Information Technology Act deals with normally accepted restrictions on “cyber security and removal of illegal contents like child pornography” but did not respond to the pointed questions on the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which permit private censorship through the service providers.

During the UPR examination of India in 2008, 18 recommendations were made but India implemented only one recommendation — extending standing invitation to the Special Procedures mandate holders. On May 24, India made no commitment to enhance human rights legal framework in the country but has received over 80 recommendations to act upon in four years.

As the same recommendations pile up due to lack of action, India will increasingly face credibility crisis at the UN despite assertion that it is committed to protect and promote human rights of its citizens.

Constructive Engagement Still Elusive at India’s Second Universal Periodic Review at the UN


United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Delhi, May 29, 2012

India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI).

Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture.

WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED. WGHR is also disturbed that India dodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made to India on the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court. The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended that India ratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012 On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption of India’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.”

For more information, contact:

* Miloon Kothari,
Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR)
email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

* Vrinda Grover,
Lawyer –
email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

* Madhu Mehra,
Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD)
email: programmes@pldindia.org

The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organisations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org

Trapped after being forced to say ‘I do’


ARUNA KASHYAP

Child brides are not criminals. They cannot be compared to children accused of committing crimes. Anyone who hears a story of a girl forced into marriage before she turned 18 will tell you that she had little choice in the matter. In fact, under Indian law, children convicted as juveniles cannot be disqualified from having access to any benefits or legal entitlements on the basis of their conviction. So why punish children who were forced to marry by closing the door on them?

 

The case of Ratnashri Pandey

Take the example of Ratnashri Pandey from Madhya Pradesh. Her family pressured her to marry soon after she passed her class nine examinations. Pandey told Human Rights Watch, “I didn’t want to be married, but a girl’s wishes are not respected. Everyone said I should get married…I got married.” Pandey never set eyes on the groom; not even his photograph. “I told my nana (mother’s father) I wanted to study after marriage.”

She described her struggle to continue her education — juggling household work, fighting with her husband and in-laws to delay pregnancy, and enduring insults and beatings because of her decisions. She separated from her husband because he started beating their young daughter, and eventually divorced him.

She completed her master’s degree and worked as a teacher. But because the income was not enough to support both her and her children, Pandey dreamed of becoming a civil servant. Leaving her children in her parents’ care, she went to another city, moved into a women’s hostel, and started preparing for the State civil services examinations. Her parents spent nearly Rs.300,000 to help. She passed the preliminary examination in 2006. But State policy stopped her in her tracks a month before she was to sit the main examination.

The Madhya Pradesh authorities informed Pandey that she was ineligible to take the exam because she was married as a child, she said. She filed a case in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which granted her permission to write the examination pending a decision on the merits of the case. She did not pass the first time. After another round of litigation, she sat the exam again in 2009. “I spent more time in courts than with my books,” she said. The Madhya Pradesh High Court upheld the government rule disqualifying applicants who had married as children. She appealed to the Supreme Court, and awaits the verdict.

Violates 2006 Act

India prohibits marriage for girls under 18 and boys under 21, and should do everything possible to prevent child marriages. But when children (usually girls) marry and prevention strategies fail, punitive measures aimed at “discouraging” child marriages victimise girls yet again. This approach contravenes a key principle of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006: no penalty for girls forced into marriages.

There is almost no information on how many such small rules are embedded in regulations or other programmes throughout the country. But there is enough information to show that such an approach is not an aberration.

Central programmes

During the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) — which is the review of each country’s human rights progress every four years before the U.N. Human Rights Council — India earned high praise for its commitment to education. Other countries urged India to tackle the issue of child marriages and to advance opportunities for education and work for women. Reiterating its commitment to protecting the rights of women and children, India stated that its authorities exercised “greater consciousness” to integrate human rights concerns in every ministry’s policies and programmes. The need for “greater consciousness” in responding to child marriages in the country is dire.

It’s clear that what goes on even at the national level, excluding the victims of child marriages, goes well beyond Pandey’s case. Indian health rights experts have documented at least two other well-known examples. The Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) programme — sponsored by the Central government — provides conditional cash transfers to women giving birth in health facilities and is linked to prenatal, in-hospital, and post-natal services.

In many States with better health indicators, though, the benefits exclude girls below 19 who are not from Scheduled Castes or Tribes and where the Central government limits the benefits to two live births. The impact of this discriminatory treatment is likely to be mitigated by the Janani-Shishu Suraksha Karyakram (Mother and Child Protection Programme), another new scheme that promises free in-hospital and referral services to all pregnant women. But it is too early to tell.

UNICEF report

The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana, which is the Central government’s cash assistance programme to supplement pregnant and lactating women’s nutrition and double up as maternity benefit, has identical restrictions. And weigh all this against stark data in a recent UNICEF report which says that 47 per cent of India’s adolescent girls are underweight and 56 per cent of girls from ages 15 to 19 are anaemic. UNICEF calls this a “severe public health problem.”

In April, UNICEF released its world report card on adolescents. It showed that India has 243 million adolescents (ages 10 to 19) — the highest number in the world. Another UNICEF report this year found that 47 per cent of women surveyed in India were married or in unions by age 18.

When the law against child marriages protects the mother and her child, it is appalling that key health and nutrition schemes for pregnant women leave out adolescent pregnant girls, affecting them and their newborns.

To be fair, the Central and State governments have dozens of schemes that “promote” girls, many of which are aimed at delaying marriage. But this is not enough.

Indian officials should develop a holistic response to tackle child marriages — a rights-based approach to Central and State government action. Punitive measures against girls and women forced into child marriages should find no place in government policies, programmes, and practices. Central and State governments should adopt a clear policy of non-discrimination that includes married adolescents in all welfare, higher education, and employment efforts. Without such a coherent response, India will fail its child brides. It’s time India’s approach to child marriages moved beyond this punitive phase and matured.

(Aruna Kashyap is Asia researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.)