Exclusive! Matrimonial sites being used by predators, traffickers: Maneka
Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi is determined to give her ministry more teeth.
From restudying the controversial Juvenile Justice Act to creating women’s bank and reviewing the entire anganwadi scheme, Gandhi has several plans.
The minister also notes that the internet is being widely used to exploit women, expressing concern over the matrimonial sites that which are turning into hunting grounds for predators and traffickers.
“It’s a ministry that needs to take itself seriously,” she tells Rashme Sehgal, especially since it deals with the upliftment of millions of impoverished and exploited women.
You have come up with several big-ticket projects to help women and children. For one, you want to give more teeth to the National Commission of Women?
The National Commission of Women needs to have more teeth. It needs to become a more powerful institution and we will go to Parliament to get this done. Presently, it has over two lakh complaints pending before it but its members have in the last few years scarcely attended to a couple of cases. Rather, the members seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time in travelling. We believe it must become a quasi court and have the same powers as the (National) Human Rights Commission.
We undertook one test case where a woman working in the income tax department was sexually harassed by her supervisor for the last six years. We gave the man a chance to defend himself and asked him to appear before the NCW. He declined, saying he did not have the time to do so. The NCW must be allowed to penalise the person committing the crime, make the offender pay for the cost of harassment and also, if need be, send him to jail.
The problem is that this ministry has never taken itself seriously even though it is dealing with the lives of millions of women. The earlier minister (Krishna Tirath) did not even attend office on a regular basis. The first thing I was told when I joined the ministry was that I should go to attend a women's conference (abroad). I put my foot down.
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Image: Image for representation purpose only (Inset) Maneka Gandhi
'I've proposed to set up 660 Rape Crisis Centres in every district of the country'
Cases of rape are escalating. What steps are you taking to help women deal with the trauma of rape?
I have placed a proposal before the Cabinet to set up 660 Rape Crisis Centres across each district of the country which will be run by the ministry. It will have a helpline which women can access 24x7. The helpline I helped set up for children has proved very effective.
We will have a supervisor in every RCC whose job will be to call in a doctor, nurse and lawyer to attend to the rape victim. These RCCs will also be equipped with an ambulance. It will be a place where a rape victim can actually heal.
How will you raise the money for such a scheme?
The ministry presently has 43 offices in the country being manned by one individual and they are doing little work. You have these individuals preparing plans like people should not eat hamburgers but dosas….. stuff like that which is pretty well known. Money that was allocated to run these offices can be used to run the RCCs.
I’m also giving a big push for the setting up off toilets and providing of sanitary towels to girls in schools. Presently, girls skip school for the five days (when they are menstruating). Girls want electricity and toilets. I can help provide the latter.
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Image: Women in New Delhi protest against the rising number of rape cases
'Juvenile Justice Act must be re-looked'
You have also decided to re-enact the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000.
We are re-looking at heinous crimes being committed by children because we find that several cases of premeditated rape and murder are being committed by 16-year-olds. They just happen to be more at it than the others. When they are booked by the police, they simply tell them ‘book us under the JJ Act’. The all know about this law.
This inadequacy to deal with offences committed by juveniles in conflict with law, in the age group of 16-18 years, needs to be corrected. A draft of the proposed JJ Bill, 2014 incorporating the suggestions received during previous consultation has been prepared.
And a copy of the draft bill has been placed on the website of the ministry for suggestions from the civil society and others who are being encouraged to review the provision of the proposed bill and send in their comments.
You also plan to streamline Central Adoption Resource Authority and ensure shorter institutional stay for children awaiting adoption besides bringing in heavy penalty for children homes reporting abuse?
We need to streamline the entire process of adoption and do away with all unnecessary complications. I’ve been in the ministry a month now. When I joined, there were 2,800 kids waiting to be adopted. As of now there are 700 kids.
I also believe people of Indian origin settled abroad should be treated as Indians rather than as foreigners. As per the existing rules, only 20 per cent of children to be adopted can be given to foreign families. But I believe these rules need to be relaxed. Muslims were not allowed to adopt children and this also needs to be changed.
I must add that that the new law mandates that the declaration of a child be legally free for adoption within a month as against two months for surrendered children and two to four months for abandoned children depending on their age. Home checks on prospective parents must happen as soon a people register for adoption. This change in CARA will also have to be placed before Parliament.
The entire exercise is aimed at ensuring that every child enjoys his/her rights, stays protected and cared for without facing harassment or abuse and is swiftly and productively re-integrated into the society in case he is found to be in conflict with the law.
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Image: A woman demands justice in the Delhi gang rape case, in which one of the accused was a juvenile
'Internet being increasingly misused to exploit women'
What are some of the other proposals?
We need to create women’s banks where women can easily access loans. I also plan to start a programme in which women will be taught simple courses so that they can implement the knowledge on their own.
I want to review the entire anganwadi scheme which employs 14 lakh people and has a budget of Rs 15,000 crore in order to make it much more effective. At present it is supposed to be feeding malnourished children and providing crèches. None of this is being done effectively. Food being supplied by it is sub-standard and crèches are run for four hours a day which is clearly inadequate for working mothers who need day-long creches.
The thrust is to help create a sense of self-worth for our women. I want to divide the present Sabla scheme (meant for adolescent girls). One part will deal with 11 to 15 year olds. The other will deal with older girls between the age group of 16-18 years. The older girls must be taught how to reconnoitre a bank, insurance systems, life sciences, how to apply for jobs and also how to access local officials. Life skills on what they should be eating, what is a condom, why they should not get married at an early age must be imparted to them.
These girls can join ITIs that can train them to start their own projects. I also want to introduce bravery awards for women with a cash prize of Rs 25,000 in every district to be given by the district magistrate. Women who receive it can become role models and will have to give four lectures after receiving the prize.
A pension scheme for women at the village level where women save one rupee a day which makes it Rs 30 a month needs to be encouraged. This money can be put aside as part of a pension fund and over the years it will add up to a substantial amount.
The internet is being increasingly misused to exploit women. I am also checking out all the matrimonial sites which are being used by a large number of predators and also traffickers. This has to be linked up with police checks.
To cite an example, I have received complaints about a retired defence personnel who is sexually exploiting girls in their early thirties. When they have gone to file a complaint with the police, it turns out that this man has already filed a case against them for stalking him.