Every five minutes there is an occurrence of a crime against children in our country. Undoubtedly, children in India remain most susceptible, and every space accessed by them – whether it is schools, roads, parks and unfortunately even their own homes, continue to be unsafe. Shockingly, the last decade has seen an increase of more than 500% in crimes against children. Even with the implementation of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012, only a minuscule percentage of such cases get reported.
The inclusion of criminal details in the visa applications of foreigner nationals is a welcome suggestion by the government; as it would prevent foreign nationals from using India as a ground for child abuse. What we also must consider is the fact that 95% of rapes against children in India, are committed by people known to them, therefore it becomes essential to strengthen the system within, ensuring that children remain safe in all spaces they access. An equal emphasis is required both at the prevention level as well as in the area of quicker prosecution and closure of cases.
While the government is contemplating on the idea of a National Offenders registry, it may not be a one-stop solution to the problem of child abuse. The recent case of the arrested sex offender Sunil Rastogi, reveals huge gaps in the existing machinery built to protect children. In the multiple FIRs files against him, if conviction had happened in even one, more children may have been spared. But, his name would have figured in the national offenders list only if he was convicted. While POCSO provides for a robust mechanism, the weak implementation means that the nature of victim support, evidence collection, quick intervention required from the judiciary still remain a struggle, especially in smaller districts. The conviction rates in our country are extremely poor with just 1,072 cases convicted and 1,418 acquittals in 2015.
Currently as a country, we invest only a meagre 0.03% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on issues affecting child protection and this has remained the same for last 15 years, whereas the rate of crime over this period has increased by 15 times. Even this investment is largely in the machinery for response under various laws with little emphasis on prevention. There needs to be investment in building greater awareness among parents and other adults dealing with children. From places where our children get education, to the open spaces they access or play, there needs to be a serious effort to put in place a robust vigilance and support mechanism. Also, what is required is the framework of protection to percolate across the mandate of different ministries within the system, so that it is reflected in all domains involving children.
Puja Marwaha is Chief Executive, CRY – Child Rights and You
The views expressed are personal