Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but there is no provision criminalizing 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 ($5,600). 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. Authorities had not reported by year’s end statistics on the incidence of rape or numbers of prosecutions and convictions for the offense.
The law criminalizes domestic violence, but it remained a major problem. Amendments to the Protection from Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) came into force on September 1, establishing a list of offenses separate from the criminal code, which was not the case prior to the amendment. The amendments redefine the term spouse to include unmarried couples of the opposite sex; redefine domestic violence to include verbal, psychological, economic, and sexual abuses; and empower police officers and enforcement officers to act on behalf of the victims, instead of waiting for a formal complaint from the victim. Although the amendments do not mention spousal rape, section 2.d. stipulates that a spouse cannot force or threaten the other partner into a sexual act “from which the spouse or the other person has the right to abstain.”
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 to whom authorities had granted court protection orders. As of September 2, the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare recorded 3,776 cases of domestic violence, and police received 1,775 such cases. Although there are no statistics on the number of domestic violence cases prosecuted, authorities claimed that most reported cases were prosecuted. Authorities prosecuted crimes including assault, aggravated assault, threats, and blows 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; however, there are few shelters available to house victims. Anyone found guilty of violating a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act may be fined up to 50,000 rupees ($1,400) or imprisoned for up to one year for first time offenders. Under the newly amended PDVA, the penalty is 100,000 rupees ($2,800) and an imprisonment not exceeding two years for a second offense and up to five years’ imprisonment for subsequent offenses under the PDVA. 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.
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 the prohibition against it. The EOC is responsible for investigating allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, a mandate formerly carried out by the NHRC.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Couples and individuals were able to access contraception and skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, which the government provided free of charge in government-run hospitals together with free essential obstetric and postpartum care.
Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution and law. The courts upheld these rights. Nonetheless, cultural and societal barriers prevented women from fully exercising their legal rights (see section 7.d.).
The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development, and Family Welfare has a mandate to promote the rights of women. The National Women Entrepreneur Council, operating under the ministry, is a semiautonomous government body established to promote the economic empowerment of women.
Women had equal access to education, employment, housing, 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.