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Metoo movement, sexual abuse of minors at shelter homes kept WCD on its toes in 2018

twitter-logoPTI | December 20, 2018 | Updated 12:13 IST

By Uzmi Athar New Delhi, Dec 20 (PTI) Sexual harassment of women at workplace that opened #MeToo floodgates in the country and abuse of children at shelter homes kept the Women and Child Development Ministry on its toes for most of the year. India's #MeToo movement, which started with Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta accusing co-star Nana Patekar of harassing her during the shooting of a film in 2008, escalated with many women coming forward with their complaints against well-known faces. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi welcomed the movement and urged all political parties and government offices to have an internal sexual harassment committees to look into such complaints. The government formed a Group of Ministers headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh to look into the lacunae in the existing law on sexual harassment. The other members of the group, which held its first meeting on December 12, are Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Gandhi. The year also saw horrific cases of alleged sexual abuse of minor children living at shelter homes coming to light. Minor girls were rescued after alleged sexual abuse at two shelter homes in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in Uttar Pradesh. The two cases raised a big question mark on the safety and security of girls, women and children at such homes. In the Muzaffarpur case, the owner of the NGO running the shelter home for destitute girls was arrested besides nine other persons. On July 26, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recommended a CBI probe. He said that the government was "ashamed" by the incident. Thirty four of the 42 minor girls at the shelter home were sexually abused, their medical examination confirmed. The Deoria case came to light after a 10-year-old girl managed to flee from her shelter home and informed authorities about the plight of the inmates, who were reportedly sexually abused by the couple running the home. Following that, police raided the facility and rescued 24 girls. Gandhi ordered auditing of all shelter homes in the country and according to the apex child rights body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights over 3000 shelter homes have been inspected till now. The year also saw a topsy-turvy relationship between the ministry and child-care homes of Missionaries of Charity. Gandhi in July ordered all the states to get child-care homes run by the Mother Teresa-founded Missionaries of Charity inspected immediately, after cases of alleged illegal adoptions carried out by the homes came to light. But in October, she asked the Missionaries of Charity to "come back into" the government's system of adoption services after the latter left the system in 2015 over an ideological row on some issues. India's first comprehensive anti-trafficking bill seeking to deal with the crime from the point of prevention, protection and rehabilitation was approved in the Lok Sabha. The bill provides for confidentiality of victims, witnesses and complainants and time-bound trials and repatriation of the victims. It proposes to create institutional mechanisms at district, state and central levels. It calls for punishment ranging from 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine not less than Rs one lakh. However, various groups pointed out that the bill does not mention terms like "sexual exploitation" or "prostitution" and is unfavourable towards the transgender community, because they are not conclusively covered under the bill. The government also tightened the noose on absconding NRI husbands by cancelling 33 passports of such people. The other measures proposed by the WCD Ministry included compulsory registration of all NRI marriages within seven days, failing which passports and visas would not be issued to the people involved. Another proposal was holding the properties of NRI offenders in escrow, in case they abscond abandoning their spouse. The WCD ministry also directed the National Commission for Women to set up a dedicated cell to look into such cases. The year saw a number of initiatives under the Poshan Abhiyan, a programme launched with the aim to reduce the level of stunting, undernutrition, anaemia and low birth weight in children. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced increase of monthly honorarium for anganwadi workers and helpers. Anganwadi workers will be given Rs 4,500 per month instead of Rs 3,000, mini anganwadi workers will get Rs 3,500 from Rs 2,250 and anganwadi helpers will be given Rs 2,250 instead of Rs 1,500. The ministry directed all state governments to verify the number of children in the anganwadis of the country after Assam government found 14 lakh fake beneficiaries in the state. Since then, the verification of beneficiaries has been done in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. There are around 14 lakh anganwadis across the country and 10 crore beneficiaries, which include children under the age of six and pregnant women and lactating mothers. In September, Gandhi had said about one crore fake beneficiaries registered in various anganwadis have been identified and eliminated. Physical torture of inmates in West Bengal, no medical aid for HIV patient in Odisha and no treatment for mentally challenged women in Uttar Pradesh were some of the key findings by the women's commission during inspections of shelter homes in these states. As 2018 comes to an end, the ministry has to deal with issues such as safety of women and children in shelter homes, verification of beneficiaries at anganwadis and passage of the anti-trafficking bill. PTI UZM ZMN

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