By- Anjali Joji, 3rd Year Student at Amity Law School, Amity University, Noida
Protection of women and children has always been a prime concern of state and non-state actors, but unfortunately, it remained only in papers and hardly applied in practical life. Therefore, women and children remain delicate organs of the society who are prone to be aimed and attacked during the occurrence of unfortunate events like armed conflicts. Though it is claimed by the governments that they indulge in wars and armed conflicts for the sake of its citizens, but in the end, though inadvertently, citizens are the most maltreated ones, principally women and children who are not self-subsistent.
Armed conflicts are the result of disagreements arising between parties owing to their contradictory perspectives on a subject matter, which eventually paves the way for violence amongst the parties and mass violation of human rights. Armed conflicts are categorized as International armed conflict and Intra-state armed conflict wherein under former the conflict is between different countries and in latter, the conflict is between government and non-state actors. The brunt of such conflicts befalls fiercely upon women and children as they are non-combatant civilians devoid of care and protection. Victimization of women and children through murder, rape, sexual abuse, forced disappearance, torture has been in vogue in certain countries to bring an end to a particular community or culture. Women and children are easy prey for not just the unscrupulous adversaries of the conflicts; instead, even the peace-keeping forces leave no stone unturned in maltreating civilians. The ordeal suffered by a 13-year-old Manipur girl who was raped by two Indian soldiers depicts the egregious situation wherein women can’t escape the brutality of men, whether uniformed or non-uniformed.
Women shoulders double burden during armed conflicts, as on one end they struggle to be the breadwinner for the whole family and at the other end they have to keep themselves protected from the unfortunate inevitable part of war i.e. rape, mutilation of sexual organs, forced pregnancy, and prostitution. Women and young girls are the primary targets of opponents as it hits two targets with one arrow i.e. humiliation of women which shall recede the moral and emotional strength of male combatants and causing the civilians to migrate in fear. In 1994, when the Rwandan genocide occurred, Tutsi women were targeted by the majority Hutu ethnic group as a means to ostracize the minority Tutsi group. Such inhumane acts leave an adverse impact upon women, especially young girls who get traumatized by it.
Children are also victims of the adversities created by armed conflicts. It hinders the development of children by posing threat to their safety, survival, health, and education. Armed conflicts are detrimental to the interests of children, as it not only carries away their fundamental right to live and grow in safe environments, but also leaves them injured, disabled, traumatized, exploited, orphaned, imprisoned and at times killed. Children are not only made to participate in conflicts by recruiting them as child soldiers, cooks, messengers, suicide bombers, also are made witnesses of deaths, rapes, tortures, and displacement of family members. The armed forces take advantage of the vulnerabilities of children and entice them to pick up drug dealings, street fights, forced prostitution, weapon deliveries, and explosive activities in consideration of financial assistance.
The most common visuals during armed conflicts are genocides, the devastation of properties, and displacement of civilians. In the process of displacement, asylum seekers and refugees undergo severe hardships as they usually get segregated from their family members and end up in foreign lands unequipped with the most indispensable things such as food and shelter. The instances of Syrian ongoing civil war since 2011 and the Rohingya Refugee Crisis are proof enough of the repercussions of armed conflicts upon the civilians, principally upon women and children.
Bearing in mind the inhumane conditions of civilians during armed conflicts, the United Nations and its member states have been striving to suppress the harsh impacts of such conflicts. International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which has evolved over the centuries can be considered as a pioneer in this realm which intents at curbing the reverberation of armed conflicts upon civilians. The fundamental principles of IHL are to protect the non-participants of armed conflicts and to restrain the means and methods of warfare. Sadly, the implementations of these principles are hardly effective as state and non-state actors prefer their own warfare methods which they aren’t willing to compromise. Russia, Iran, and Syria are exemplars of states preferring freedom for using weapons of their own choice, even if such weapons are detrimental to innocent civilian’s lives.
One of the significant causes of oppression of women can be traced to the lack of involvement of women in the decision making bodies whether at national or international levels. In India, women constitute 48 percent of the population yet their role in legislative, executive and judiciary is less than 10 percent in each organ. Representations of women in these domains are mandatory for addressing the issues pertinent to women. Recognizing the role women can play in conflict management and peace-keeping, the UN Security Council Resolution on women, peace, and security’ was unanimously adopted in 2002 by the UN Security Council. The SCR addressed not only the inordinate impact of conflicts upon women but also the inclusion of women in decision-making bodies. The 3 pillars or ‘3 Ps’ of this resolution have been Participation of women in decision-making bodies for management, negotiation, and peace-keeping, and Protection of women during armed conflicts and at refugee camps and then the Prevention of crimes against women by prosecuting the accused. Though many resolutions of such nature came into being, countries like Russia, China, Syria, and Iran are adamant and less willing to give away their freedom of action. Hitherto, India too has not adopted any action plan for executing the principles set forth by the SCR. International Criminal Court was established in 2002 for prosecuting peoples accused of massacres and other war crimes, but the fact that majority violators of human rights in armed conflicts are never brought before the law for punishments arouse concerns over the proper implementation of international laws.
United Nations Convention on Rights of Children (UNCRC), adopted in 1989 and ratified by India in 1992, has been a major step taken on the international level for protecting child rights in a humanitarian crisis. Articles 38 and 39 of UNCRC mandate the protection of children during armed conflicts by curtailing children’s participation in hostilities and providing protection and care if children are affected during conflicts and most significantly the states have been bestowed with the obligation to promote physical and psychological reintegration of the children post conflicts. India being a signatory to UNCRC has to abide by CRCs provisions and in compliance with it, the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 came into effect in India in 2007. The mandate of Act includes safeguarding children, inquiring into complaints vis-à-vis violation of child rights, carrying inspections of custodial institutions, providing measures for the betterment of children, and serving as a forum easily accessible for seeking redressal at times of infringement of child rights.
India has various provisions for the protection of women and children, but there’s no express provision for protecting civilians rights during wars and armed conflicts except for Articles 20 and 21 of the Indian constitution which iterates the right to have a dignified life and personal liberty. The preamble of the constitution is the source from which the significance of dignified life can be traced. Everyone has the right to lead a dignified life irrespective of class, caste, gender, and ethnicity, but the atmosphere created by conflicts often leads to mass violation of basic rights of civilians majorly comprising women and children and the majority of offenders never meet with court proceedings and get punished. The fact that even the government refuses to address the grievance of affected civilians when offence is committed by armed forces is more distressing. The multifacetedness of government was made visible when the government tried to shield soldiers accused of rape in Manipur, disregarding the fact that rape victims are also Indian citizens. Kashmiri women have been through years of sexual and verbal harassment caused by armed forces due to the immunity armed force possesses of being guardians of our country. Even after having stringent laws against offenders, the judiciary also fails to dispense justice at once due to a number of reasons, which often demotivate victims from approaching courts. As righty said- ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Therefore, there’s a dire need to implement everything written in papers in real practical life.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)