If Baby Falak's case shocked the nation, Baby Afreen's case has left us numb. After Baby Afreen's appalling condition - and death - hit the headlines, the media, especially the social media, has been afire with suggestions on how to deal with her Demon Dad. Many suggested that the father, who tortured three-month-old Afreen, should be stoned to death or he should be hanged till dead. While it's easy to understand what pushed many to make such strong comments, the truth is that such Talibanesque justice won't stop such deplorable behaviour. Instead, we need to accept that our warped societal norms embolden people to indulge in such heinous crimes. Baby Afreen was tortured by her father because he did not want a girl.
But the truth is that gender discrimination is not confined to any economic class or strata. For example, Kerala, with its literate and well-off population, has a skewed child sex ratio. The 2001 and 2011 census reports show a significant decrease in the number of girls compared to boys in the 0-6 age category. State health department statistics reveal that the child sex ratio has fallen in nine out of 14 districts in the past 10 years. The problem becomes more acute because mothers, as in the case of Afreen's mother, are often unable to speak up for their children. While there is an urgent need to change mindsets, it is neither an easy task nor can it be accomplished overnight. The only way to bring about change in our behaviour towards children is by making the law effective. In India, there is no dearth of good laws but the implementation process has always been below par. Take for example the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act and Rules. It has been in place for years but still female foeticide is rampant thanks to its tardy implementation. While proposed laws like making the mother the first guardian would be an important step forward, there will be no change at the ground level unless and until the existing laws are implemented vigorously.
The second measure would be to introduce fast-track courts to look at cases that involve the rights of minors. A 2007 report of the ministry for women and child development revealed that more than 53% of children in India have probably been sexually abused and many have never shared the fact of this abuse with anyone. It is patently unfair to expect children to testify against their abusers repeatedly if cases get delayed. They need speedy justice so that they can rebuild their lives and put the past behind. Third, the Nat-ional Commission for Protection of Child Rights needs to be much more active than it has been so far. Just taking notice and making routine comments - "This is very tragic. The case should be bro-ught to a logical ending" - is not enough. It needs to think of some long-term and effective deterrents to stop cases of child abuse.