Support centres for sexual violence victims to open in India

Dozens of support centres for women victims of sexual violence are to open across India under a scheme announced Tuesday, as pressure grows on police over their handling of rape cases.

Police in four states have signed up to the "Justice For Her" initiative, with Sheffield Hallam University in Britain.

Fifty-one centres, which aim to improve access to justice for victims, will be opened in Madhya Pradesh state which has the country's worst record for rape cases.

The New Delhi region and the northern states of Haryana and Punjab have also signed up.

Lawyer Helena Kennedy, a member of Britain's House of Lords upper chamber, said the initiative could be a "watershed moment" in India.

"The first step towards tackling this issue is giving sanctuary for those who have been victims of these terrible crimes, whilst also providing the relevant authorities with the skills and power to address the problem with confidence," Kennedy said when launching the project in New Delhi.

India has been in the global spotlight since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus sparked angry protests.

The number of reported rape cases has grown since then. The government has promised to speed up trials and set up hotlines but rights groups say authorities are still not doing enough.

The support centres will provide medical attention, police liaison, legal advice and counselling.

A training programme will aim to make police more sensitive in handling sexual assault and improving access to justice.

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