10/26/2006, 00.00
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New law protects women from domestic violence

Welcomed by the Church and women's rights activists, the law enters into force today. In India, 70% of women suffer abuse within the home. They must bear the brunt of a mentality seeped in discriminatory traditions.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A new law enters into force in India today: the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Welcomed by human rights activists and by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), it is a historical landmark in the struggle for emancipation of women in the country.

The Chairman of the CBCI Commission for Women, Bishop JB Thakur, described the act as a "right step in the right direction". He said: "A large section of the women of India are poor and illiterate. Consequently, they are most vulnerable and the worst victims of violence." Some local customs and traditions make matters worse, like the dowry system, because they discriminate strongly against women.

The new law is aimed primarily at providing protection to women within the home: wives are protected from abuse by their husbands and also by other male relatives. And the law extends its protection to mothers, sisters and widows too. 

The "Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2006" penalizes abuse or threat of abuse, whether physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, as well as economic exploitation and not providing for one's wife and children. Renuka Chowdhury, junior minister for women and child development, said: "70% of women are victim of these violent acts in one way or another." The act also sanctions the right of a woman to live with her family. Punishment ranges from a jail term of up to one year to fines of up to 20,000 rupees (0).

Women's rights organizations are satisfied about the new law although they point out that it must be accompanied by a "change in mindset". A survey by the International Institute for Population Studies showed that 56% of Indian women believed beating one's wife to be justified, if she did things like going out without her husband's permission or cooking a bad meal. Domestic abuse is often denied by the victims themselves.

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