The coronavirus-induced lockdown led to a spurt in cases of domestic violence and trafficking, said a Parliamentary panel in its report, tabled on Monday. The report by Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, which is headed by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Anand Sharma, recommended that cash transfers and moratorium on loan repayments be continued to empower women, reported The Indian Express.

“The Committee notes that there was a sudden spurt in domestic violence and trafficking of women and children during the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic outbreak,” said the report. “This was mainly due to disruption in economic activities, work from home and family spending more time at home during lockdowns. The female migrant workers and their children were trafficked and had gone missing during lockdowns.”

The report said employment guarantee schemes focusing on poor women could continue for a longer time. “A moratorium on interest rates for self-help groups or loan repayments would also help because they are the women who support families in a big way,” it added, according to The Economic Times. “Some of the steps would raise women’s participation in employment and also lead to a reduction in violence against them.”

The committee in its report also noted that criminal cases against women and children were not being registered on time. “The Committee appreciates the initiative taken by the Rajasthan Police for conducting decoy operations to check whether FIRs are being registered at police stations or not,” it said. “The Committee strongly recommends that such decoy operations should be conducted at regular intervals throughout the country. This will create alertness amongst ground-level Police officials and will lead to the registration of more cases.” Under the decoy operation, the Vigilance wing sends their sleuths posing as complainants to file FIRs.

The panel said the conviction rate in crimes against women and children was abysmally low. It recommended that the MHA’s “Online Investigation Tracking System for Sexual Offences (ITSSO)” should be adopted and implemented by all states.

The committee also pointed out that there was a poor representation of women in the police force. “The Committee notes with disappointment that women presently constitute 10.30% of the Police force,” it said. The Committee fails to understand the delay on the part of States/UTs to give adequate representation to women in Police forces.

The Nirbhaya Fund was often diverted towards other schemes and projects, the panel pointed out. The fund was set up in 2013 to finance projects to improve the safety and security of women. “The Committee takes a very serious note of this and strongly recommends that the Ministry should desist from sanctioning funds for such schemes from Nirbhaya Fund and adhere to the original purpose of Nirbhaya Fund,” it added.

The other recommendations of the panel included setting up at least one forensic laboratory in every state capital on priority, mandatory installation and regular maintenance of CCTV cameras, GPS, panic button in all public transport in a time-bound manner and improving the functioning of the fast-track courts. “The Committee is perplexed to note that against the 1023 Fast Track Special Courts only 597 Courts including 325 exclusive POCSO courts have been made operational in 24 States/UTs,” it noted. “This shows that although there has been an increase in cases over years, the lack of such courts will further delay the course of dispensing justice which will subsequently reduce the faith of victims in the justice delivery system.”

On the misuse of cyberspace, the panel recommended the Ministry of Home Affairs coordinate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to identify and permanently block virtual private networks, or VPNs, with the help of internet service providers. “The ministry must take initiatives to strengthen the tracking and surveillance mechanisms by further improving and developing state-of-the-art technology to put a check on the use of VPN and the dark web,” the report said.