Women's Laws And Rights In India
Protection of women is a pressing need in the current scenario. As parents, your daughters’ safety and happiness will be top priority. Here’s an overview of laws and women's rights in India.
By Sushma Sosha Philip and Susan Philip • 11 min read
Every day the newspapers carry stories of atrocities committed against women and cases of women being exploited. Irrespective of age, qualifications or background, women seem to make easy targets for abuse. Women's rights issues are a matter of concern for everyone. Due to a history of subjugation, various laws targeted at protecting and uplifting women and girls were formulated. However, the problem continues. Part of this is due to the fact that there is a general denial that a problem exists, the other part stems from the fact that girls and women are often unaware of their rights. To be part of a change for the better, parents should educate not only their daughters but also their sons about women’s rights and laws protecting women in India. Here’s an outline of what they need to know:
Women’s rights in India
Due to the dire situation in India when it comes to women’s safety, women’s rights in India have been in the limelight of late. Some of the important rights of women are as follow:
- Discrimination on the basis of gender is prohibited by the Constitution of India.
- Women are entitled to equal pay as their male counterparts for work.
- Female rape victims have the right to free legal aid and the right to remain anonymous.
- Women cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, unless in exceptional circumstances.
- Women have the right to file First Information Reports or FIRs in any police station, even if such police station does not have jurisdiction with respect to the offence.
- Women have special rights with regard to inheritance of property.
- Women also have certain protective rights against sexual harassment at the workplace and harassment due to dowry demands etc.
The above-mentioned rights of women stem from various legislations that are geared towards protecting women. Some of the important laws in favour of women in India are as follow:
Laws for women in India
1. Marriage and family matters
- The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 defines a ‘child’ as a boy under the age of 21 and a girl under the age of 18. This means that the marriage of a girl below the age of 18 is considered to be child marriage and is prohibited by the law. There are certain contradictions to this rule in personal laws. However, it is important for you, as parents, to understand the importance of encouraging your daughters to continue their education and empowering them in other ways rather than marrying them off at a young age.
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 lays down the law regarding abortion in India. Right now, it is not easy to get an abortion even in cases of rape as this Act sets a number of conditions. However, this Act is soon to be amended.
- Domestic violence is prohibited by law and is considered to be a criminal offence according to S. 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. Certain provisions in the Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code also deal with this issue. Finally, a legislation devoted to this issue was enacted in 2005 – The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.
- Another common problem faced by married women is harassment from their in-laws for dowry. To battle this social evil, the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted, criminalising this practice. However, it still continues. It is important that parents do not give in to societal pressures and ensure that they do not provide dowry in any form.
- While Indian law does not criminalise pre-marital sex as long as it is between consenting adults, there are no laws regulating live-in relationships. However, courts have developed laws on this subject through decisions in cases to such an extent that the law against domestic violence applies to couples who are in live-in relationships and children born out of such relationships are treated as legitimate in certain circumstances.
2. Sexual abuse and exploitation
- Various forms of sexual harassment such as singing lewd songs, eve-teasing, making sexual advances in spite of refusal, watching, capturing or sharing images and other media of a woman engaging in a private act without prior consent have all been criminalised by the Indian Penal Code. There is an entire legislation dedicated to sexual harassment in the workplace – Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013.
- As parents, it is important that you are aware of your daughters’ activities on the Internet. Today, many crimes against women are committed by sexual predators through online portals. Online harassment of women is prohibited under S. 67 of the Information Technology Act.
- Any indecent representation of women is banned by the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. This law, as it is considered to be too narrow for this day and age, has undergone certain changes and an Amendment Bill was drafted in 2012 which broadened its scope.
- Ss. 375 and 376(2) of The Indian Penal Code criminalise rape. These sections spell out 7 years’ and 10 years’ imprisonment, respectively, as the punishment for rape. The key feature of these sections is the requirement for consent by the woman in question for the act not to be considered as rape. Thus, as a parent it is important that you explain the concept of consent to your daughters at an early age. Intercourse with a woman of unsound mind or a girl below 16 years of age is considered to be rape irrespective of consent being given. Unfortunately, marital rape has not yet been criminalised.
3. Property laws
- While traditionally, the rights of women with regard to succession and inheritance of property in India were next to non-existent, as of now, according to the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, daughters have been given the same rights as sons with regard to inheritance and succession.
- The Indian Succession Act does not differentiate between the heirs of the deceased.
- Muslim women enjoy rights of inheritance though limited to some extent by custom and practice.
4. Women in the workplace:
- Women in India have the right to earn as much as men and gender discrimination is also prohibited at the time of recruitment. Ss. 4 and 5 of the Equal Remunerations Act, 1976 lay down the law regarding this.
- The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 has brought about certain groundbreaking laws which concern working women including the increase of paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks (S.5(3)) and ‘work from home’ options for new mothers (S.5(5)).
Organisations that help
There are a number of organisations that work for the upliftment and protection of women such as the National Commission for Women, One Stop Crisis Centres (or) Nirbhaya Centres, National Association of Rural Women India, etc. There are also a number of NGOs working for women’s rights. Please keep your daughter informed of these organisations so that she knows who to approach in case of a crisis.
While keeping your daughter informed of her rights is a basic obligation of every parent, it is also important that you take a more active part in ensuring that your daughter has a better and happier future. By taking steps such as not providing a dowry and by shifting the focus from marriage to education, you can do your part in breaking a cycle of abuse that has been going on for centuries. However, to ensure a complete change in society’s views on women, it is essential that you teach not only your daughters but also your sons to recognise the problems faced by women today and how to treat women with the respect that is their due.
Also read: Laws Every Child Should Know
About the expert:
Written by Sushma Sosha Philip on 23 November 2017; updated on 2 December 2019
Ms Philip is a lawyer with experience in corporate law and IPR. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree from the University of Leiden.
Disclaimer: The article contains only general information about the laws. No part of this article constitutes legal advice of any sort and it cannot be relied on for any legal purpose.
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