Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but there is no provision for spousal rape. Police and the judicial system did not effectively enforce the law. The penalty for rape is 20 years’ imprisonment, with a fine not exceeding 200,000 rupees ($6,350). Rape was widespread, but most victims chose not to report or file charges against their attackers due to cultural pressures, fear of retaliation, and the lengthy court process. The Police Family Support Bureau had not reported by year’s end statistics on either the incidence of rape or the numbers of prosecutions and convictions for the offense.
The law criminalizes domestic violence, but it remained a major problem. Domestic violence activists stated police did not effectively enforce the law. According to women’s rights NGOs, police were not always effective in protecting domestic violence victims who had been granted court protection orders. Statistics on the number of domestic violence cases reported during the year and firm figures on the number of prosecutions resulting from those reports were unavailable at year’s end, although most reported cases were prosecuted. Crimes including assault, such as aggravated assault, threats, and blows, are prosecuted under the criminal code, but law enforcement recordkeeping did not always indicate whether they were linked to domestic violence. The law provides for protection and housing rights for victims, as well as counseling for the abuser. Penalties for domestic violence amounting to assault ranged from 10 years’ to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 200,000 rupees ($6,350) depending on the extent of injuries sustained. Anyone found guilty of violating a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act may be fined up to 25,000 rupees ($790) or imprisoned for up to two years. The local NGO SOS Femmes reported women often remained in abusive situations for fear of losing financial support and, as a result, few filed complaints against their abusers. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare maintained an abuse hotline and a website on legal protections for victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There is neither a tradition of FGM/C nor specific legislation prohibiting the practice, and there were no reported incidents of the practice on women over the age of 18.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, which is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment was a problem, however, and the government was not effective at enforcing prohibitions against it. The EOC is responsible for investigating allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, a mandate formerly carried out by the NHRC. The number of alleged sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases investigated by the EOC during the year was unavailable at year’s end.
Reproductive Rights: The law provides for the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to have the information and means to do so; and to attain the highest standard of reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Couples and individuals were able to access contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, which were provided free of charge in government-run hospitals together with free essential obstetric and postpartum care. According to the UN Population Fund, 39 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception.
Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same rights under the constitution and the law. The courts upheld these rights. The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare has a mandate to promote the rights of women. The government established the National Women Entrepreneur Council, a semiautonomous government body, in 1999 to promote the economic empowerment of women. It operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare.
Despite legal equality, cultural and societal barriers prevented women from playing a more active role in society (see section 7.d.).
Women had equal access to education, employment, housing, and government services, and could inherit land. Women had equal access to credit and could own or manage businesses. The law criminalizes the abandonment of one’s family or pregnant spouse for more than two months as well as the nonpayment of court-ordered food support.