Invisible Victims of Sexual Violence: Access to Justice for Women and Girls with Disabilities in India
In the year 2013, the Government of India strengthened the existing laws against sexual violence by passing the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The amendments included several provisions to safeguard the rights of women and girls, including those with disabilities, and facilitate their participation in the investigative and judicial processes. Published in April 2018, this report examines the implementation of these amendments and highlights the gaps in their enforcement. It focuses on cases of sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities. The report was released by Human Rights Watch (HRW), USA.
per the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities Act, 2016, the report defines a ‘person with disability’ as
an individual with “long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory
impairment” which hinders their participation in society. It investigates
17 rape and gang-rapes cases across eight Indian states (Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu,
Uttarakhand, and West Bengal). To better understand
the challenges faced by women and girls with
disabilities, HRW also conducted interviews with family members, lawyers, officials from mental
health institutions, police, government officials, special educators and
disability rights activists between January 2016 and August 2017. The report
states that women and girls with disabilities are at a higher risk of facing
sexual violence in India.
This 67-page document is divided into eight sections: Terminology (Section 1); Summary (Section 2); Key Recommendations (Section 3); Methodology (Section 4); Background and Legal Framework (Section 5); Barriers in the Criminal Justice System (Section 6); Full Recommendations (Section 7); and Acknowledgements (Section 8).
The report finds that women and girls with disabilities had difficulties securing compensation from courts or the Criminal Injuries Compensation boards as there are no set standards for the compensation to be given. Compensation amounts are determined arbitrarily and vary between states.
In 2013, the central government of India established the Nirbhaya Fund for the "protection and rehabilitation" of survivors of sexual violence. The report highlights the absence of any explicit mention of women with disabilities in the Nirbhaya Fund. Moreover, most of the Rs. 3,000 crores allocated to this fund between 2013 and 2017 has not been utilized.
Social isolation and lack of access to information on legal rights and protections makes reporting sexual violence a challenge for the victims and their families. Blaming the victim for sexual violence often reinforces stereotypes of hyper-sexuality or asexuality of women and girls with disabilities. Such social stigma also prevents victims from reporting cases of sexual violence.
Out of the 17 cases documented in the report, 16 cases included women and girls with disabilities and their families who were unaware of the protections guaranteed to disabled women under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 or the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
Failure to provide official documents which record disabilities creates problems when reporting a crime and filing a complaint, the report states. When the victims lack government certification of their disability, the police do not include information of their disabilities in the reports. This happens even when the police have been informed about the disability or when the disability is apparent.
The report states that police officials lack training and access to experts – such as special educators – to adequately handle cases of sexual violence committed against women and girls with disabilities.
The report notes that in cases where the perpetrator of abuse is a family member, women and girls with disabilities have had to flee their homes to protect themselves. Since there is no centralised programme which affords protection to witnesses and victims of sexual violence, women and girls with disabilities are often ostracised by their families on whom they rely for everyday support.
The report recommends better enforcement of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 by implementing a 24-hour national helpline and ensuring easy access to support for survivors of sexual violence.
In cases of sexual violence, the report states, immediate medical examination can help with urgent medical needs and facilitate timely collection of evidence. To this end, the report recommends the appointment of special educators and sign language interpreters in medical centres and hospitals. Medical forms in hospitals must be easy to read and available is accessible formats and languages.
The minimum amount of compensation mandated by the central government for victims of rape must be adopted by all states in the country, the report recommends.
The National Crime Records Bureau, New Delhi, must include consolidated data based on gender, disability and age to facilitate a comprehensive analysis of crimes of sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities.
Focus and Factoids by Krishna Priya Choragudi.
PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Human Rights Watch, USA
Human Rights Watch, USA
03 Apr, 2018