The criminal justice system plays a crucial role in shaping the experiences
of women who come into contact with it, be they victims of crime or defendants.
Despite progress in recent decades, women continue to face significant barriers
and challenges within the criminal justice system, including gender bias,
discrimination, and lack of representation, among others.
At the local, regional, national, and global levels, crimes against women are
forever increasing. Women's crime is a worldwide problem. Despite all of the
advancements, women continue to be victims of terrible atrocities all across the
world. The UN Declaration on the Exclusion of Crime against Women (1993) states
that "crime against women is an expression of traditionally imbalanced power
relations between men and women, which have led to command over and
discrimination against women by men and to the anticipation of the full
development of women."1
Women who are Victims of crime, face unique challenges, including difficulty
reporting crimes due to stigma or fear of retaliation, and a lack of sensitivity
and understanding from law enforcement and other actors of criminal justice.
Additionally, there is a constant fear among these women victims that the system
may fail to recognize and address the specific types of crimes, experienced by
them, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, and they may be subjected to
victim blaming, as a result, often crimes against them go unreported. Any form
of violence against women is a serious violation of Articles 14, 15, and 21 of
the Indian Constitution, which safeguard women's human rights and fundamental
Women defendants too face significant barriers in the justice system, including
a higher likelihood of being imprisoned for non-violent offenses, and a lack of
access to adequate legal representation. Additionally, women in the criminal
justice system face challenges related to their gender, including
discrimination, sexual harassment, and a lack of services to address their
specific needs, such as access to reproductive health care, mental well-being,
In a country like India, women are disproportionately affected by crime and have
to face significant challenges within the criminal justice system. Some of the
most common crimes experienced by women in India include domestic violence,
sexual assault, and trafficking, among others. Despite the prevalence of these
crimes, women in India have to face several barriers to accessing justice and
obtaining adequate protection.
Adding to already existing challenges in the justice system, the prevalent
culture of victim blaming and a fear of stigma or retaliation discourages these
women from reporting crimes. India is taking action to implement all women into
social and political life, but on the other hand, its women are subjected to
inhumane treatment and the fear of violence, jeopardizing both women's and the
country's progress. It is a well-known truth that the number of crimes against
women is a negative sign of growth, and India is currently dealing with a
serious challenge in this regard.2
It is a well-known fact that the criminal justice system in India is often slow,
ineffective, and prone to corruption, making it difficult for women to seek
justice and obtain protection. Furthermore, women who are defendants in the
criminal justice system often face discrimination and a lack of access to
adequate legal representation either due to lack of finances or lack of family
support, all these further compound the difficulties they are facing.
Though women's rights and protections within the Indian criminal justice system
have been a matter of significant concern for many years, despite the progress
in recent years, women in India continue to face numerous obstacles in accessing
justice, including gender-based violence, discrimination, and unequal treatment
under the law.
One major issue is the widespread underreporting of crimes against women,
including domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment. Fear of reporting
cases is a major barrier for many women who are victims of crime in India. This
fear can be driven by a number of factors, including:
Women who report crimes against them, especially sexual crimes, may face social
stigma and victim shaming/blaming. This can be particularly damaging in
communities where there is a strong cultural taboo against discussing such
issues publicly. Such incidents also lead to loss of jobs, loss of future
employment, etc., and hence such fear of loss of livelihood restrains them from
reporting such crimes.
Fear of Retaliation:
Women may be afraid to report crimes out of fear of retaliation from the
perpetrators or their associates. This is particularly true in cases of domestic
violence, where women may fear for their own safety and that of their children
Lack of Trust in the Criminal Justice System:
Many women do not trust the criminal justice system, including the police and
the courts, to handle their cases effectively and sensitively. This can be due
to past experiences of corruption, bias, or a lack of understanding of the law.
The system still has a very less number of women hence there is a pre-determined
notion that the prevalent patriarchal nature of society will never be able to
grant justice to these women, especially in cases against men.
Lack of Access to Resources:
Women who are from marginalized communities, such as low-income families or
rural areas, may face barriers to accessing resources, such as legal aid or
support services, that would help them report crimes and navigate the criminal
justice system. They are not aware of their own rights, and often fall prey to
frauds and scams by imposters who promise them with providing justice.
Furthermore, there have been concerns about the treatment of women by the
criminal justice system itself, including discrimination by law enforcement
officials, unequal treatment in the courts, and inadequate support and
protection for women who are victims or witnesses in criminal proceedings, as a
result often women witnesses t urn hostile in fear of facing the wraths of the
To address these issues, the Indian government has enacted a number of laws and
policies aimed at protecting women's rights and promoting gender equality within
the criminal justice system.
Some of the key provisions include:
With respect to women victims:
- The Indian Penal Code:
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) includes provisions criminalizing various forms
of violence against women, including rape, sexual harassment, domestic
violence, and trafficking. The IPC also recognizes and punishes crimes such
as dowry deaths and cruelty by husbands and in-laws.
- The Code of Criminal Procedure:
The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides for special provisions for
the protection of women, including protection orders and the appointment of
women police officers for the investigation of crimes against women. The
CrPC also provides for expedited trials in cases of crimes against women and
includes provisions for in-camera proceedings and witness protection.
- The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act:
This act provides for the protection of women from domestic violence,
including physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. The act provides
for protection orders, compensation for the victim, and the establishment of
shelters for women who have been subjected to domestic violence.
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition,
and Redressal) Act:
This act provides for the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual
harassment of women at the workplace. The act requires employers to
establish a complaint mechanism and provides for penalties for
- The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act:
This act provides for the prevention of prostitution and trafficking of
women and children. The act includes provisions for the protection and
rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and for the punishment of
- The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013:
The Nirbhaya case, in which a female student was gang-raped in
December 2012, prompted the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act,
2013. Several provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act, and
Criminal Procedure Code were changed by the Act.
Several new offenses have been recognized and incorporated into the Indian
Penal Code as a result of this amendment, including acid attack (Section 326
A & B), voyeurism (Section 354C), stalking (Section 354D), attempting to
disrobe a woman (Section 354B), sexual harassment (Section 354A), and sexual
assault resulting in death or injury resulting in a persistent vegetative
state (Section 354 (Section 376A).
To comply out the Constitution's objective, the state has passed a number of
laws aimed at ensuring equal rights, preventing social discrimination and other
forms of violence and atrocities, and providing support services, particularly
to working women. Although women can be victims of any crime, such as 'murder,'
'robbery,' or 'cheating,' acts directed exclusively.3
These provisions in Indian law aim to provide women with a legal framework for
seeking justice and protection from crimes committed against them. However, it
is important to note that the implementation of these laws and the support
provided to women who have experienced crimes can vary across the country, and
more needs to be done to ensure that women are able to access their rights and
protections under the law.
Provisions To Protect The Rights Of Women Who Are Accused Or Convicted Of
- The Indian Penal Code:
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides that women cannot be punished with the
death penalty or life imprisonment, except in rare circumstances. This is in
recognition of the fact that women are often subjected to violence and
exploitation and may be vulnerable to abuse within the criminal justice
- The Code of Criminal Procedure:
The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides for the appointment of women
police officers to investigate crimes committed against women and to deal
with women accused of crimes. The CrPC also requires that women be kept in
separate facilities from men in jail and that they be searched only by women
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act:
This act provides for the protection and rehabilitation of children,
including female children, who are accused of crimes. The act provides for
the establishment of special facilities for juvenile offenders, including
separate facilities for boys and girls.
- The Prison Act, 1894:
The Prison Act provides for the treatment of female prisoners in accordance
with their rights and needs. The act requires that women be kept in separate
facilities from men, and provides for special provisions to address the
needs of pregnant women, women with children, and women with disabilities.
These provisions aim to ensure that women who are accused or convicted of crimes
are treated fairly and humanely within the criminal justice system. However, in
practice, the implementation of these provisions is not effective, and there
have been reports of women being subjected to abuse and mistreatment within the
criminal justice system.
There is an evident lack of awareness among women and also a failure in the
implementation of the existing protective laws on the ground level, and hence to
address these challenges, there is a need for systemic reforms within the
criminal justice system in India, including the implementation of
gender-sensitive policies and practices, and the development of programs and
services specifically designed to support women who are victims of crime.
Additionally, education and awareness-raising efforts are needed to challenge
the culture of victim blaming and to encourage women to report crimes and seek
justice. Also, accused women have the right to a fair trial and the same needs
to be ensured for them.
It is important to mention that women defendants in India have a right to legal
aid under the Indian Constitution and various legal provisions. Legal aid is the
provision of assistance to individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer, in
order to ensure that everyone has access to justice.
Some of the provisions are:
- The Legal Services Authorities Act:
The Legal Services Authorities Act provides for the establishment of legal
aid and advice services for individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer.
The act requires that legal aid be provided to women who are accused of
crimes, and that special provisions be made for women who are vulnerable or
marginalized, such as those who are poor, illiterate, or victims of
- The Prison Act, 1894:
The Prison Act provides for the appointment of legal aid to prisoners who
are unable to afford a lawyer. This includes women defendants who are in
jail and require legal assistance.
- The Legal Aid Clinics:
The Legal Aid Clinics are an initiative of the government of India and
provide legal aid and advice services to individuals who are unable to
afford a lawyer. These clinics have been established in several states
across the country and provide free legal services to women who are accused
All these above-mentioned provisions aim to ensure that women who are accused of
crimes have access to legal aid and representation, in order to ensure that they
receive a fair trial and are able to defend themselves against criminal charges.
However, in practice, the implementation of legal aid provisions can be
inconsistent across the country, and women may still face challenges in
accessing legal representation.
Some Other Relevant Laws For Protection Of Women Rights In India Are:
- Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
- Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994
- Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987
- Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (Amended in 2021)
- Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
- The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (Amended in 2017)
- Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956
- The Hindu Marriage Succession Act, 1956 (Amended in 2005)
- The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- The Special Marriage Act, 1954
- The Family Courts Act, 1954
Some Of The Landmark Cases In India Which Dealt With Issues Related To Women And
- Tukaram vs. State of Maharashtra (1979):
This case dealt with the issue of separate detention facilities for women
and the court held that women prisoners must be kept in separate, secure and
- State of Maharashtra v. Madhavrao S/o. M.L. Dhawale (1991):
The case dealt with the issue of custodial rape, which refers to the rape of
a woman by a public official while she is in police custody. The Supreme
Court of India held that custodial rape is a heinous crime and that the
government is under an obligation to protect women from such abuse. The
court also laid down guidelines for the protection of women in police
- Vishaka and others v. State of Rajasthan (1997):
This case dealt with the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. The
Supreme Court of India held that sexual harassment is a violation of women's
human rights and that employers are under a duty to provide a safe working
environment for women. The court also laid down guidelines for the
prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Sakshi v. Union of India (2004):
This case dealt with the issue of medical examination of rape victims. The
Supreme Court of India held that medical examinations of rape victims must
be conducted in a manner that is sensitive to the victim's rights and
dignity, and that medical examinations should not be used as a means of
further traumatizing the victim.
- Sharmila Kantha vs. State of Maharashtra (2005):
This case dealt with the issue of solitary confinement of women prisoners
and the court held that solitary confinement is a form of cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment, and women prisoners cannot be subjected to such
- Sunita Kumari vs. State of Jharkhand (2010):
This case dealt with the issue of medical care for female prisoners in
Jharkhand, and the court held that female prisoners have the right to
receive proper medical treatment and facilities, especially during pregnancy
- Selvi vs. State of Karnataka (2010):
This case dealt with the issue of the use of polygraph and narcoanalysis
tests on female prisoners and the court held that these tests violate the
privacy and dignity of women and cannot be used without their consent.
- Babita Puniya v. State of Haryana (2017):
This case dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of women in the
police force. The Supreme Court of India held that women police officers who
are subjected to sexual exploitation must be provided with support and
assistance and that their rights must be protected. The court also laid down
guidelines for the protection of women police officers from sexual
These cases have helped to strengthen the legal protections for women in India,
and have helped to raise awareness about the various forms of violence and abuse
that women can face within the criminal justice system. However, there is still
much work to be done to ensure that women's rights are fully protected and that
women are able to access justice in a manner that is fair and effective.
It is important to continue working to ensure that women defendants have access
to legal aid and representation, in order to protect their rights and ensure
that they receive a fair trial, and the women victim have a safe and supportive
environment to ensure justice to them.
Despite the various provisions on paper, for protecting the rights of women and
specially affected women who are either victims or defendants in a given matter,
there is a gap that needs to bridge in order to make justice easily accessible
to these women on the ground level, in reality, and not just on a piece of
Efforts are to be made in the implementation of the existing laws and revising
of policies and procedures to make them more women-friendly in order to create a
sense of trust and belief in these affected women towards the criminal justice
There is still a long way to go to ensure that women in India are able to access
justice and are treated fairly and equitably within the criminal justice system.
Addressing these challenges will require a sustained commitment from the
government, the legal community, and society as a whole to promote gender
equality and protect the rights of women.
To conclude, we need to understand that it is important to create a supportive
environment where women feel comfortable reporting crimes and have access to the
resources they need to do so. This could include increased public awareness
campaigns, strengthening the criminal justice system to ensure that it is more
responsive to the needs of women, and providing support services to women who
have experienced crimes.
It is also important to address the cultural and social attitudes that
contribute to the stigma surrounding the reporting of crimes against women.
Also, efforts to improve the implementation of legal aid provisions, increase
public awareness about the right to legal aid, and provide training and support
to legal aid providers are essential to make justice accessible to every person
- Prof. (Dr.) Pawan Kumar Mishra and Alok Kumar , Indian Criminal Justice
System and Crime against Woman: A Critical Analysis, 5 (2) IJLMH Page 1291 -
1305 (2022), DOI: https://doij.org/10.10000/IJLMH.112941
- Indian Courts on female victims of sexual Crimes: Recent Developments-
G.S.Bajpai and Preetika Sharma.
- The National Policy for Women Empowerment (2016). Retrieved from: http:/wcd.nic.in/acts/draft-national-policy-women-2016