Conjugal visits for prisoners

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    The State of Punjab has furthered the cause of the right to life and personal liberty of prisoners by allowing conjugal visits for inmates.

    •  It is expected that this initiative will strengthen matrimonial bonds and ensure prisoners’ good conduct.

    About Conjugal Rights

    • They are rights created by marriage, that is, the right of the husband or the wife to the company of their spouse.
    •  In the context of prisons, however, conjugal visits refer to the concept of allowing a prisoner to spend some time in privacy with his spouse within the precincts of a jail. 
    • It is argued that conjugal visits are a fundamental right of the spouses of the prisoners. 
      • Prisoner rights are internationally recognised through the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights etc. 
        • Through such instruments, prisoners are guaranteed the right to life and inherent dignity. The right to maintain family relations including conjugal visits are included in these treaties. 
      • Most prison Acts and Rules across the country accept the importance of maintenance of continuity in family and social relations.
    • Relevance 
      • Conjugal visits can have positive impacts in the form of psychological health benefits for prisoners, preservation of marital ties, and, reduction in the rates of homosexuality and sexual aggression within prisons. 
    • Judicial views: 
      • In the case of Sunil Batra vs Delhi Administration (1979, SC), Justice Iyer observed that “visit to prisoners by family and friends are solace in isolation: and only a dehumanised system can derive vicarious delight in depriving prison inmates of this humane amenity.” 
      • The High Court held that the right to conjugality is available to prisoners under Article 21, subject to restrictions.
        •  However, in the case of Meharaj vs State (2022), the Madras HC while considering the question of whether conjugal rights form part of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21, observed that there have to be differential standards in enforcement of Article 21 for law abiders and law violators. 
        • The Court observed that even though conjugal visits could not be held as a fundamental right, the prisoner would still be eligible to avail leave for conjugal visits if there are ‘extraordinary reasons’ such as ‘infertility treatments.’

    Source: TH