India gender-based violence policy hub
This hub provides key facts about gender-based violence (GBV) in India.
Gathering and updating this information will help to inform our own research in the area and, over time, influence policy to help reduce GBV. It will also help to inform the None in Three game aimed at young people in India. For more information and references, download our policy briefing sheet.
1986 – Amendments to the Indian Penal Code, 1862 – Sections outlining unlawful treatment of women, including dowry death, abduction, or rape, have been incorporated into the Indian Penal Code.
1986 – Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act – The Act prohibits the indecent representation of women in publications, paintings, and through advertisements.
1986 – Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act – The Act outlines where and how children can work and where they cannot. It is one of the most debated acts regarding children in India.
1990 – National Commission for Women Act – An Act to constitute a National Commission for Women. The National Commission for Women was set up in 1992 to: review the constitutional and legal safeguards for women, recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redress of grievances, and advise the Government on all policy matters affecting women.
1994 – The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act – An Act to provide for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception, and for regulation of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purposes of detecting genetic abnormalities or metabolic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders and for the prevention of their misuse for sex determination leading to female foeticide.
1997 – The Supreme Court of India framed a set of guidelines for workplaces to follow as regards sexual harassment against women. These were known as Vishakha Guidelines.
2006 – Prohibition of Child Marriage Act – An Act to provide for the prohibition of solemnisation of child marriages. Under the Act, a child is a male who has not completed 21 years of age and a female who has not completed 18 years of age. Contracting, performing, conducting or directing a child marriage is a punishable offence. Unless proved otherwise, the parents or guardians of the child are considered to have failed to prevent the child marriage and hence are also held accountable.
2012 – The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act – An Act to strengthen the legal provisions for the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It applies to all young people under the age of 18 years and provides protection from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography
2013 – Criminal Law (Amendment) Act – The amendments sought to make provisions relating to gender-based violence. New offences, including acid attack, sexual harassment, and stalking, have been incorporated into the Indian Penal Code. Penalties for the more serious crimes, such as gang rape and causing serious injury, have been increased.
2013 – Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act – The Act provides protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace.
NALSA Vs. Union of India – The Supreme Court of India gave recognition to transgender persons in India as a ‘third gender’ giving them equal rights as any other citizen in the country. This judgement clearly stated that gender is inextricably linked to a person’s identity, and everyone has the right to self-determine their gender, with or without biomedical validation.
2016 – Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act – An Act to prohibit the engagement of children in all occupations and to prohibit the engagement of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes.
2017 – On 11 October 2017 a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that sexual intercourse with a minor (below 18 years) wife is rape. It read down the exemption to section 375 of the Indian Penal Code which did not initially consider it to be rape where the wife was between the ages of 15-18. This brought the rape laws in consonance with the POCSA Act, which makes it a statutory rape if the victim was under 18 years.
Right to Privacy Judgement – The judges of the Supreme Court of India in a unanimous verdict held that privacy is a fundamental right. The judges conceptualised privacy as being central to citizens’ ability to have control over information shared about them, the right to decisional autonomy, the right to be let alone by the state, and the right to choose their own sexual partners as well as their gender identity and sexual orientation.
Triple Talaq Judgement – The Supreme Court of India passed a judgement by 3:2 majority, declaring the practice of triple talaq (Talaq e Biddat) as illegal and void. It is a practice among Indian Muslims where an instant divorce is effective as soon as the word “Talaq” has been pronounced thrice.
On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India decriminalised gay sex between consenting adults. The Supreme Court ruled that parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which pertain to homosexual sex are unconstitutional. This ruling will contribute towards the reduction of discrimination and violence against LGBT persons.
2018 – Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2018 – Pursuant to the gang rape of a 7-year-old girl child, the Indian government in April passed an ordinance making the punishment for rape of a girl below the age of 12 the death penalty. In August the Act was passed by Parliament.
A large country in Southern Asia, India has a population of approximately 1.3 billion. It is currently classed as a lower-middle income nation according to the World Bank.
Gender equality indices
Gender Inequality Index (GII) measures gender inequalities between women and men in three important areas: reproductive health, empowerment, and economic status. Values range from 0 to 1, with higher values indicating more disparities between the genders. India’s current GII index is 0.501. Comparable scores are currently held by Guatemala (0.492), Guyana (0.492), Iran (0.492), Morocco (0.492), and Ethiopia (0.508).
India’s global gender gap index
Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) assesses gender gaps on economic, political, education, and health criteria. Values range from 0 to 1, with lower values indicating more disparities between the genders. According to the Global Rankings Report 2020, India’s GGGI is 0.668 (rank 112 out of 153 countries). The lowest rank recorded for India was on health and survival subindex (score: 0.944, rank: 150), followed by economic participation and opportunity subindex (score: 0.354, rank: 149), and educational attainment subindex (score: 0.962, rank: 112). The main issue is gender differences in literacy rate, with 66% of women being literate compared with 82% of men. India had a high 18th rank on political empowerment (score: 0.411). Among the 153 countries studied, India is the only country where the economic gender gap is larger than the political gender gap. Only one-quarter of Indian women are working or looking for work, compared with 82% of men. In addition, female estimated earned income is one-fifth of male income.
Gender discrimination is rife in India, including physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence, son preference, unequal resource distribution and unequal decision-making power. Caste discrimination, communal violence and economic policies also impact women in different ways.
GBV crime statistics are high, yet rights workers argue that official statistics do not reflect the magnitude of the problem, as sex crimes are likely to be underreported due to social stigma. The Hindustan Times (August 2017) reported that over 1,000,000 cases had been filed in 10 years under sections pertaining to cruelty by husband and dowry (Chachra, 2017).
One form of GBV which appears to be prevalent in India is domestic violence. A community-based study on the topic among 450 women from Gujarat (a state in Western India) indicated that 42% of participating women experienced physical beatings and sexual abuse, 23% experienced abusive language, belittlement, and threats, and 56% believed that wife beating is justified (Nambi, 2011). In 2002, the International Center for Research on Women reported that 85% of men admitted being violent against their wives in the 12 months preceding the study, 57% sexually abused their wives, and 32% were violent towards their pregnant wives. Some of the correlates of domestic violence perpetration and victimisation in India include lower educational status, lack of family satisfaction to the items brought by women, low family income, increasing age of women, and the husband’s alcohol consumption. However, correlates of domestic violence were found to differ across Indian states (see Borah, Kundu, & Mahanta, 2017).
Research also investigated the effects of domestic violence on women’s health. For example, a study with a large sample of 9,938 Indian women aged 15-49 revealed that experience of physically violent behaviours by their husband doubles the risk of poor mental health among affected women, compared with women who had not reported any physical spousal violence (Kumar, Jeyaseelan, Suresh, & Ahuja, 2005).
- cruelty by husband or relatives crimes
- assaults on women
- kidnapping and abductions cases
- violations of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012
2002 study of men’s behaviour towards their wives
Other forms of violence against women and girls which require immediate attention include dowry-related violence and harassment and child marriage. Although, in line with the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) of 2006, the legal age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men, India has the highest number of child brides in the world. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, over half of Indian children suffer sexual abuse, but it is clearly far more widespread than is admitted (Human Rights Watch, 2012).
India is a member of the South Asian Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which adopted a regional action plan to end child marriage. In 1993, India also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In April 2018, the Union Cabinet, the supreme decision-making body in India, approved an ordinance to allow courts to award the death penalty to those convicted of raping a child up to 12 years old. Successful reduction of the prevalence of GBV in India, however, seems to require a whole of society approach, including gender sensitisation as a part of the school curriculum as well as overall improvement in the quality of education.
India’s national policy for women:
In 2016, a draft national policy for women was published by the Government of India, Ministry of Women and Child Development. Its mission is to create an effective framework for the development of policies, programmes, and practices which would ensure gender equality. The policy focuses, among others, on prioritising a holistic approach to women’s health, the nutrition of women of all ages, and strengthening geriatric services for women. The policy also talks about engaging men and boys through advocacy, awareness generation and community programmes to instil respect for women in men from a young age. The overall vision of the draft policy is to create a society in which women would be able to attain their full potential and participate as equal partners in all spheres of life.
GBV in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic in India:
The introduction of social distancing and lockdown-type, stay-at-home measures has resulted in conditions conducive to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of the most vulnerable members of the society. Those who are abused by family members, often have little or no access to the usual routes of escape. As such, the world has witnessed a surge in domestic violence cases since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (Townsend, 2020). In India, the number of domestic violence complaints received by the National Commission of Women (NCW) had doubled from the first to the final week of March 2020. In considering this increase and to be more accessible to women, the NCW announced a WhatsApp number to receive complaints. However, many women may still find it difficult to make a complaint because they need access to either a landline or a mobile phone and be sure that they wouldn’t be overheard by the abuser (EPW Engage, 2020). In early April, an anti-domestic violence video was published by Indian celebrities. The ad, featuring Anushka Sharma, Vidya Balan, Virat Kohli, and other Bollywood personalities, encourages men to take a stand against domestic violence and women to break the silence around it (Vijayalakshmi, 2020). Further, António Guterres, the United Nations (UN) secretary-general, said: “I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19” (see Fang, 2020).
In a letter to the Editor of Child Abuse & Neglect, an international scientific journal publishing articles on child welfare, Dave and Yagnik (2020) noted that children have become the most vulnerable population during the pandemic. The introduction of draconian lockdown measures has resulted in increased number of child abuse cases being reported to the CHILDLINE India. Between the 20th and 31st March, about 300,000 calls were received, showing almost 50% increase in calls in just 10 days. Further, before the pandemic, the National Crime Record Bureau in India estimated that 40,810 children were sexually victimised. Since in 95% of these cases the perpetrator was known to the victim, it is expected that many more children will suffer sexual victimisation during the pandemic. The authors have recommended that a school counsellor is appointed in each school to strengthen the first line of defence against child maltreatment.