On June 25, the Women and Child Development Ministry launched the ‘Women in Prison’ report that focuses on the betterment of women inmates. Among the 134 recommendations, the ministry — headed by Maneka Gandhi — has sought reduction in provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to allow bail to undertrial women inmates in jails, who have spent one-third of their maximum possible sentence in detention.

The ministry has proposed these changes in Section 436A of CrPC which guides the release of inmates after they have completed half of their maximum sentence. The report also recommends deciding a maximum time frame for release of women prisoners after bail is granted but surety is not produced. This would ensure that poor or financially dependent women are not left to languish in prisons.

Journalist Sunetra Choudhury, who authored a book on prison inmates called ‘Behind Bars’ and especially looked at women inmates, feels glad that the government has begun thinking about this. “While working on my book, I found that there was a vast number of women who are in jail just because they are uneducated or poor. For example, if their bail money was Rs 1000, there was no one at home to pay it. Or no legal help meant no bail application,” she told SheThePeople.TV.

She added: “Supreme Court and others say that arrest should be last resort, but women are victims of bizarre situations. For example, local rivalries can result in accusations of abetment and rape charges against women. This is heartbreaking and lead to break-up of families. The impact of jails on children of inmates is another terrible story. This needs urgent, fast track intervention.”

Make arrangements for children

Other than suggesting bail provisions, the report suggests that prior to their imprisonment, judiciary should allow women with care-giving responsibilities to make arrangements for their children, and provide a reasonable suspension of detention may for this purpose.

In case, there are no family or friends where women can leave their child (above 6 years of age), a Child Care Institution must host such children. To address the problems of loss of ties with the child, the report encourages greater links of the child with the mother throughout her incarceration through extended visits and frequent meetings.

It is crucial for inmates who are mothers to keep in touch with their children and have a sense of security that their children are in a safe environment. “This is definitely a good move but I want the judiciary to take an action. It shouldn’t be just another report as there are lots of studies which have already shown this and for children’s development, the availability of mother is very important but nothing has happened at the judiciary level. So I hope that this reaps in some positive results,” said Monica Dhawan, Director of India Vision Foundation.

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Children suffer most because of their parents’ incarceration. Supreme Court allowed the children to be with their mothers till the age of six but there are children who come out after the age of six, so what happens to those kids? Who takes care of them? There is no data available of children inside prison across India and of those children whose mothers are inside prison

“Children suffer most because of their parents’ incarceration. Supreme Court allowed the children to be with their mothers till the age of six but there are children who come out after the age of six, so what happens to those kids? Who takes care of them? There is no data available of children inside prison across India and of those children whose mothers are inside prison. If the government want the youth and children to be safe from becoming criminals, then it must strive to first identify and have data,” she added.

As per most recent data available from the end of 2015, there are 4,19,623 persons in jail in India, of which, 17,834 (about 4.3%) are women. Of these, 11,916 (66.8%) are undertrial prisoners. In India, an analysis of prison statistics at five-year intervals reveals an increasing trend in the number of women prisoners – from 3.3% of all prisoners in 2000 to 4.3% in 2015.

A majority of female inmates are in the age group of 30-50 years (50.5%), followed by 18-30 years (31.3%). Of the total 1,401 prisons in India, only 18 are exclusive for women, housing 2,985 female prisoners. Thus, a majority of women inmates live in women’s enclosures of general prisons.

Picture credit- Hindustan Times

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