NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's draft law aimed at protecting the rights of the transgender community must be strengthened to allow people to be legally recognised by self identification rather than based on the opinions of experts, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
India's upper house of parliament in April last year passed "The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill" which recognises the right of an individual to be termed as of a third gender and provides them with benefits in education and employment.
The bill, which was introduced by a private member, is now in the process of being formulated into a possible law by the ministry of social justice and empowerment and will be put before both houses in the coming months.
But New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there were several problems with the current bill, including a proposal that identity certificates be issued to individuals based on the recommendations of a "screening committee" of experts.
"The Transgender Persons Bill will help protect and empower India's transgender population, but the government needs also to address the bill's shortcomings," Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director, said in a statement.
"With the input of the transgender community, the government should ensure that a new law lays out a strong legal framework in line with the constitution and international law, and provides effective enforcement."
Campaigners say there are hundreds of thousands of transgender people in India but because they were not legally recognised, they have been ostracised, faced discrimination, abuse and often forced into prostitution.
In April 2014, India's Supreme court recognised transgender as a legal third gender and, in a landmark judgment lauded by human rights groups, called on the government to ensure their equal treatment.
HRW said the proposal of a committee -- including government officials, medical experts such as psychologists, social workers and members of transgender community -- to determine if a person qualifies as a third gender was not the only problem with the bill.
The bill also needs to be expanded to take into account the specific concerns of intersex persons and must also address the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming children, including their right to access education, said the group.
"The Transgender Persons Bill offers the promise of both changing archaic laws and thinking about transgender people in India," Ganguly said.
"The government has taken the first steps to providing transgender people legal protections. Now it needs to strengthen the draft to ensure good intentions are turned into a reality."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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