The women and child development ministry grappled with issues like triple talaq, women's safety, nutrition and trafficking in 2017 and aims to undertake several initiatives this year.
The women and child development ministry grappled with issues like triple talaq, women’s safety, nutrition and trafficking in 2017 and aims to undertake several initiatives this year. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, which makes triple talaq illegal and void, sailed through Lok Sabha and will now have to clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle. The bill makes giving triple talaq punishable by up to three years in jail. The offence is cognisable and non- bailable. Reactions from women rights groups have been mixed with one section welcoming a legal framework for addressing triple talaq and the other opposed to making violation of civil contract of marriage a criminal act. The government also plans to roll out its much-touted ‘panic button for mobile phones’ with a pilot project likely to kick-off in Uttar Pradesh on January 26, Women and Child Development Secretary Rakesh Shrivastava told PTI. The 2017 saw the number of one-stop centres for survivors of sexual harassment rise from a mere 20 in the previous year to 168, benefiting over 70,000 women, according to data shared in Parliament. The government aims to add another 150 such centres by the end of this year with the aim to provide integrated support and assistance under one roof to women affected by violence. Another programme announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a televised address on new-year’s eve in 2016 – Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana to compensate working mothers for wage loss by providing them Rs 6,000 for the delivery of their first-born – has seen some delay but is likely to be “fully functional” by February 2018, according to a top government official. Nearly 10,000 women have availed this programme so far of the total 2.1 lakh women registered with the government — a small fraction of the estimated 51.6 lakh beneficiaries.
In some good news for working mothers, Parliament passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, extending maternity leave for working mothers to 26 weeks from 12 weeks. Adoptive mothers as well as those opting for surrogacy, too, are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave as per the law. An online portal has also been launched for women working in the government as well as private sector to help them register complaints of sexual harassment at workplace. Further, in order to curb such incidents as well as to ensure better implementation of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi received an assurance from the Corporate Affairs Ministry that it will make it mandatory for companies to mention in their annual report whether they have constituted an internal complaints committee to look into sexual harassment required by law. As far as the ministry’s role for developing legislations and programmes for children is concerned, the year 2018 will see the roll out of the National Nutrition Mission with the Prime Minister expected to launch it from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan in February. The programme will monitor the growth of children as well as check pilferage of food ration provided at anganwadis by equipping workers with mobile phones and tablets. It aims to tackle the problems of under-nutrition, low birthweight and stunting, with a budget of Rs 9,046 crore sanctioned by the Union Cabinet for a period of three years.
A pilot project helped the government identify 2,000 severely malnourished children in 46 districts across six states. Another election promise of the BJP is to curb child trafficking and a draft bill on it is in its final stages and is expected to be taken up by a Group of Ministers shortly. The proposed bill divides offences into “trafficking” and “aggravated trafficking”. The punishment for offences in the former category is rigorous imprisonment between 7 and 10 years, while aggravated forms of trafficking will invite a jail term of between 10 years and life imprisonment. A repeat offence will invite a punishment of life imprisonment. The draft law also has provisions for protection, rehabilitation and repatriation of victims. Once the bill sees the light of the day, it is expected to result in a rise in legal adoptions, which are marred by rampant trafficking. The government is also expected to shut down thousands of children’s home not registered under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, following a Supreme Court order.
While there are a mere 1,177 children’s home registered under the JJ Act according to official data, a mapping exercise conducted by the women and child development ministry has shown that the actual number of such homes could be eight times the figure — at 9,589 institutions. Once all the children at these institutions come into the government’s adoption pool, they can be rehabilitated with a family. With these broad issues addressed, the ministry of women and child development hopes to carve out a legacy for itself before BJP goes into election mode.