Maternal Mortality in India: 2011 Update–Accountability in Action

While human rights bodies and governments around the world have recognized maternal mortality as a human rights concern, the Indian Government has continued to neglect the specific health needs and human rights of pregnant women by failing to implement and monitor maternal health policies and programs—leading the country to persist in accounting for the highest number of maternal deaths worldwide for decades. 

The Center is pleased to issue an update to Maternal Mortality in India: Using International and Constitutional Law to Promote Accountability and Reform, published by the Center for Reproductive Rights in 2008, which was designed as a legal resource for Indian advocates seeking to use public interest litigation and human rights strategies to establish government accountability for maternal deaths and pregnancy-related morbidity. Since its release, Maternal Mortality in India has been distributed extensively, and has been utilized in the development of several groundbreaking maternal health cases filed by our partner in India, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).

As the accountability interventions in this report show, the government’s refusal to publicly acknowledge India’s maternal health crisis does not absolve it of its legal obligations as a signatory to major international treaties and under its own constitution to effectively reduce maternal mortality and provide reparations for violations of human rights. This is why the court’s role in handling this crisis is now crucial.

This update serves two purposes. First, it highlights important international legal developments that have taken place toward the formal recognition of maternal mortality as a human rights issue since the launch of the original report. Second, it demonstrates the meaningful impact of public interest litigation on efforts to address maternal mortality in India.  The cases HRLN has spearheaded since 2008 have awakened a judicial system that has previously been a passive spectator to the suffering and fatalities endured by women during pregnancy and childbirth. 

The Center and HRLN are pleased to present this report to illuminate the recent progress made in establishing maternal mortality as a human rights issue and to expose some of the challenges encountered. We hope that our experience will inspire the use of legal accountability strategies to address this ongoing crisis in other countries and regions throughout the world.