The Criminal (Amendment) Act of 2013 was a significant move in changing procedures to suit the needs of women and girls with disability who are survivors of rape. So was the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Nearly half a decade since then, “serious gaps remain” in the implementation of the reform, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday.
“Since 2013, India has made important legal reforms on sexual violence, but women and girls with disabilities still lack equal access to justice,” Nidhi Goyal, a co-author of the report said.
The HRW report is based on its investigation of 17 cases of rape and gangrape from eight states. The survivors included eight girls and nine women living with disabilities ranging from physical to psychosocial. All the cases belong to the period after the enactment of the two laws. Yet, in nearly all cases, the organisation found little implementation of the laws.
In 15 of the 17 cases the organisation studied, provisions that require police officers and court officials to make changes in procedures for persons with disabilities “were simply not followed”. This happened even when the survivors “had severe and visible disabilities”.
Apart from failing to accommodate survivors and the stigma and victim blaming, there is another issue that still affects reporting of such cases. In 16 of the 17 cases, survivors or their families were unaware of the disability-specific provisions of the two laws.
The result? In 16 of the 17 cases, survivors, their families and advocates, “faced challenges at multiple stages of engaging with the police, including registering accurate complaints and ensuring competent investigations”.
The 2013 amendments to criminal law had provisions to smoothen this very process. For example, a judicial magistrate is required to provide for a method a person living with disability is comfortable with during an identification parade of the accused. Similarly, the police is required to videotape the statement of such a survivor and is mandated to provide an interpreter or “special educator”.
The organisation found that few police officers are trained to handle such cases. Sometimes, the reason behind not following procedure was the survivor’s inability to certify their disability. In other cases, the police simply didn’t include details needed in the FIR.
Even existing provisions for compensation haven’t helped rape survivors living with disability. “Human Rights Watch found that even in the cases of sexual violence resulting in extreme injury, trauma, and economic hardship as a result of childbirth, women and girls with disabilities, compensation was awarded in only 5 of the 17 cases covered,” the report says.
Emphasising the need for action and implementation, Goyal said, “The government should act promptly to ensure accommodations and other measures so that women and girls with disabilities are out of the shadows of justice.”