Delhi High Court issues groundbreaking order for pregnant destitute women


Laxmi was a destitute, homeless woman who lived, gave birth, and died in the streets of Connaught Place, a neighbourhood in the heart of Delhi. On the 26th of July Laxmi delivered a baby girl assisted only by another homeless woman. Four days went by as Laxmi struggled to survive but no action was taken. She ultimately died of septicemia. Her story highlights the plight of the homeless in India, and particularly those of pregnant destitute women unaware and unable to access the basic entitlements to live with dignity. Laxmi was denied her fundamental rights to reproductive health, life, food, and shelter. After learning the shocking news of Laxmi’s death on the Hindustan Times, the Delhi High Court initiated a suo motu petition W.P. (C) 5913/2010 and appointed Sen. Adv. Colin Gonsalves from the Human Rights Law Network as Amicus Curiae. HRLN’s Reproductive Rights team filed a report on the circumstances of Laxmi’s death and suggested broader measures to ensure access to health of homeless women. On 20th October 2010 the Chief Justice Honourable Mr. Justice Manmohan issued the groundbreaking instructions to the Government of NCT Delhi: - Establishment of five shelters exclusively for pregnant and destitute women and lactating mothers, - Ensuring that adequate medical assistance and food are provided in the shelters and professionally trained personnel are deployed, - Creation of a hotline service modeled after the existing child line, - Creation of Mobile Medical Unit, - Establishment of awareness camps, - Dissemination of existing chemes and shelters through radio/TV media, -Involvement of genuine NGOs in constructing and implementation of services Justice Manmohan also ordered the Government to file and affidavit within four weeks and fixed the next hearing for 15 December 2010. The denial of Reproductive Rights is at horrific levels in India. India has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world at 117,000 women and girls dying from preventable pregnancy-related causes. The maternal mortality ratio (number of women dying per 100,000 live births) in India is higher than 120 countries including neighbouring states of Bangladesh, China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Factors contributing to these deaths include the failure and the lack of accountability of the full implementation of the Service Guarantees, set under the National Rural Health Mission 2005- 2012, a scheme which is specifically tailored toward poor women, the program places legal obligations on the government to provide a range of free reproductive health services, including but not limited to, registration and monitoring of a pregnancy, antenatal and postnatal care, safe abortion services, 24-hour access to emergency obstetrical care, and timely and accountable referral and transport to women living below the poverty line, in addition to recording and auditing maternal deaths and removing the causes. India is also obligated to fulfill its human rights obligations under international treaties such as the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.