Women & Child Development Getting Priority

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, Union Minister for Women & Child Development

Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government has made rapid strides to address the issues related to women and child welfare. Over the past two years special emphasis has been laid by my ministry to address the issues of crimes against women, protecting girl child, adoption reforms, trafficking, rehabilitating and restoring missing children and empowerment of women. We have taken several new initiatives and pushed for more stringent regulations to curb gender discrimination and crime against women and children, writes Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

The government’s focus on the welfare of women and children is reinforced with a significant 11 per cent increase in the Gender Budget for 2016-17. The total financial allocation for women in the Central Budget stands at Rs.90,624 crore for the financial year 2016-17 as against Rs.81,249 crore in 2015-16 marking an annual increase of 11 per cent. The allocation of the Ministry for the year 2016-17 is Rs.17,300 crore as against the original allocation of Rs.8,335 crore in 2015-16, which was later revised to Rs.7,257 crore. The Budget 2016-17 also contains provision of Rs.108 crore for Non- Plan expenditure bringing the total budgetary allocation for the Financial Year 2016-17 to Rs.17,408 crore. We got everything we asked for.

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao

The adverse and declining child sex ratio across the States is a major cause of concern for the Government as it has fallen from 927 in 2001 to 918 in 2011. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) is a major step to arrest this trend. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the programme on 22 January 2015. It is a tri-ministerial effort of Ministries of Women & Child Development, Health & Family Welfare and Human Resource Development. My ministry is working closely with the ministries of Human Resource Development and Health and Family Welfare to design and implement the BBBP initiative. The initiative seeks to improve the declining trend of child sex ratio in 100 selected districts in every State/ UT from the current level of 918 by preventing gender-biased sex selection and ensuring survival, protection and education of the girl child.

An exhaustive National Media Campaign for advocacy and mindset change with a 360 degree approach was rolled out in January 2015. Pan India awareness programmes have been organised including radio (in Hindi and regional languages), TV, SMS campaigns, Mobile Exhibition Vans in 96 BBBP Districts, field publicity with the support of Song and Drama Division (4,309 Programmes) and Directorate of Field Publicity (114 Programmes) of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

I am working closely with the ministries of Human Resource Development and Health & Family Welfare to design and implement the BBBP initiative that seeks to improve the declining trend of child sex ratio in 100 selected districts in every State/UT from the current level of 918 by preventing genderbiased sex selection and ensuring survival, protection and education of the girl child.

Multi-sectoral District Action Plans have been operationalised in all states. District Collectors are leading the initiative and several best practices are seen. An increasing trend is visible in at least 50 per cent of the BBBP districts for the period from January-March 2015 in comparison to the baseline values of Sex Ratio at Birth in 2013-14 (as per HMIS). Capacity building and training has been imparted to Master Trainers to further strengthen capacities of District officials and frontline workers on the issue. Several organisations have come forward to forge partnership and engage on the issue.

Village Facilitation & Convergence Service is a new initiative aimed to linking women in need with the schemes/programmes being implemented by Central/State Government impacting the lives of women such as BBBP, Sabla, Jan Dhan Yojana, Swach Bharat etc. This is being implemented initially in 100 Gender critical districts listed under BBBP. Keeping in view the initial encouraging results, we have now expanded BBBP to another 61 districts.

Juvenile Justice

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, came into effect from 15 January 2016 repealing the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The new law strengthens provisions for both children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with law. Under Section 15, special provisions have been made to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences in the age group of 16-18 years.

The Juvenile Justice Board has been given the option to transfer cases of heinous offences by such children to a Children’s Court (Court of Session) after conducting preliminary assessment. The provisions provide for placing children in a ‘place of safety’ both during and after the trial till they attain the age of 21 years after which an evaluation of the child shall be conducted by the Children’s Court. After the evaluation, the child is either released on probation and if the child is not reformed then the child will be sent to jail for the remaining term. This new law is expected to act as a deterrent for child offenders committing heinous offences such as rape and murder and will protect the rights of victim.

To streamline adoption procedures for orphan, abandoned and surrendered children, the existing Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) has been given the status of a statutory body to enable it to perform its function more effectively. Processes have been streamlined with timelines for both in-country and inter-country adoption including declaring a child legally free for adoption.

Several new offences committed against children, which are so far not adequately covered under any other law, have also been made part of this law. These include: sale and procurement of children for any purpose including illegal adoption, corporal punishment in child care institutions, use of child by militant groups, offences against disabled children and kidnapping and abduction of children. One of the major steps in this is the inclusion of ‘inducement of children into consumption of tobacco’ as one of the offences. India is the first country in the world to do so.

The new Act also makes it mandatory for all child care institutions in the country to put all children into the adoption system. We are presently conducting all- India survey of these unregistered institutions and we hope many thousands of children will be able to find a home in near future.

Another feature of the new Act is the concept of Foster Care getting introduced for the first time in India. This is aimed at providing family care to children by persons who are not willing to legally adopt the child but are prepared to help the child grow in family environment till he/ she becomes self-sustaining. We have received very encouraging response for foster care scheme.

One Stop Centers

The Ministry has launched a scheme for setting up One Stop Centers to facilitate access to an integrated range of services including medical, legal, and psychological support to women affected by violence to be funded through Nirbhaya Fund. The One Stop Centers will be integrated with 181 and other existing helplines. The Centres will be established in every State/UT on a pilot basis. In the first phase, 36 One Stop Centers will be established - one in each State/UT. So far 30 One Stop Centers have been sanctioned, out of which ten have become fully functional.

Women Helpline

A schematic proposal to enable the universalisation of a Helpline specifically for women with a common number 181 across the country has been approved. This Helpline will be linked with One Stop Centers being set up by the Ministry of Women & Child Development. So far, 21 states have been extended financial assistance where this Helpline has been operationalised.

Women Reservation in Police

With a view to make police force more gender sensitive, the government seeks to provide 33 per cent reservation to women in police. The Union Cabinet gave its approval in March 2015 for making reservation of 33 per cent for women, horizontally and in each category (SC/ST/OBC and others) in direct recruitment for non-gazetted posts from constables to sub-inspectors in the police forces of all Union Territories, including Delhi Police.

This initiative has been taken up to strengthen gender sensitivity in police force so as to improve the overall police responsiveness to gender sensitive cases. So far 7 states and all Union Territories have joined this initiative and have started recruiting additional women police officers. Most of the other States have agreed to start working on this.

Panic Button on Mobile Phones

An initiative of the WCD Ministry, the “Panic Button and Global Positioning System in Mobile Phone Handsets Rules 2016” have been notified by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). We had taken up the issue of installation of a physical panic button on mobile phones as one of the initiatives in June 2014. It was observed that in order to provide safety to women in distress situation, it is important to enable them to send out a distress signal to a family member or the police authorities so that they can be rescued.

Accordingly, in an historic step , the Panic Button Rules have been notified and under these rules, w.e.f., 1.1.2017, all feature phones will have the facility of panic button configured to the numeric key 5 or 9 and all smart phones will have the panic button configured to three times short pressing of the on-off button. Further, w.e.f., 1.1.2018, all mobile phones will be required to have the facility of identifying the location through satellite based GPS.

Mahila e-Haat

Another first, the portal has been launched recently in March 2016. A number of self-employed women, including craftswomen, who make products or provide services, are often unable to get the right value for their products and services as they do not have the ability to link up to the markets directly. Deviating from the traditional approach of providing marketing opportunities through craft-melas etc, for the first time, the Ministry decided to utilise the power of technology for economic empowerment of these women. This thought has resulted into the creation of the Mahila e-Haat Portal, which is an e-Commerce platform dedicated to these women. This portal enables them to display their goods and services for direct interaction with customers.

Within a month of its operationalisation (as on 12 April, 2016), 16,143 Self Help Groups were already registered on the portal, sourcing their products from over 1.9 lakh women. A vast variety of goods are already displayed on the site including clothes, jewellery, gift items, natural and organic products and services including tailoring, mehndi art etc.

Training for Women Heads of Panchayats

From May 2016 onwards, Women Heads of Panchayats will be trained to manage their villages efficiently and effectively. The training modules, prepared by us, cover all aspects of village level management including basic knowledge of government schemes, social issues and their resolution, management of Panchayat finances, village infrastructure etc. This scheme is being implemented in collaboration with Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR). More than 50 per cent Panchayats in several states now have women Heads while 33 per cent reservation for women in Panchayats is mandated by law.

Mahila Police Volunteers

Guidelines for Mahila Police Volunteers (MPVs) have been developed by WCD Ministry in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). MPVs will act as a link between police and community and help women in distress. The MPVs shall report the incidence of violence against women, domestic violence and dowry harassment. They shall be given an Identity Card to authorise their identity and engagement with public.

These women volunteers will keep an eye on incidents like molesting, eve teasing or parents denying education to children etc and report to the authorities. This will help reduce incidence of crimes against women in villages.

Steps taken on Missing Children

Citizen friendly web portal, Khoya Paya, for reporting and searching missing children was launched in June 2015, in order to bring citizen participation for protecting children. This enables posting of information of missing or sighted children. It also provides facility for matching the two databases. More than 4,700 users have registered on the portal (as on 27 April, 2016) and nearly 4,000 cases of missing/sighted children have been reported. The portal has been launched in collaboration with Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY)

The WCD Ministry has framed path-breaking Special Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be implemented with the help of Railways for rescue and rehabilitation of runaway, abandoned, kidnapped and trafficked children via medium of railways. Twenty main stations have been covered so far from where children have been trafficked. Very soon, 1,000 stations across the country will be covered. The new SOPs were issued in March 2015. The railway stations will have NGOs/Child Help Groups/ Childline Units, which are identified and trained by us, working with them who will work towards restoration of children of children to their parents/ guardians or their rehabilitation in the absence of the former.

Awareness campaign via posters in railway coaches launched in November 2015. One lakh posters have been put up in trains in the first phase and so far saved thousands of abducted/runaway children. Gradually 55,000 coaches are to be covered with 2.25 lakh posters. The posters caution the passengers about the children around them who may need protection. Kiosks with Child Helpline have been set up at the 20 railway stations where the identified children are brought for temporary stay before they are restored to their parents or are sent to a children home. Continuous announcements are made for passengers to keep a lookout for such children.

Childline is a nation-wide initiative for rescuing and assisting children in distress conditions. In the last two years, Childline has been extended from 200 cities to 400 cities and will be expanded to another 100 cities soon. With the expanded reach, Childline has been able to help lakhs of children and restored them to their families.

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is Union Minister for Women & Child Development

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at info@skoch.in)

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