Prime Minister Narendra Modi has referred to ‘India’s demographic dividend’ several times and stated, that as a young nation, we hold much promise for greatness. India is home to over 400 million children, who represent 30% of our country’s population — more than the entire population of North America. Every fifth child in the world is Indian.
It is a reality that children represent a voiceless and largely unorganised community. The government’s agenda for change must focus on them. Especially since the official data indicate that, we are failing them miserably and repeatedly. The National Crimes Records Bureau shows 12,363 child rape cases were registered in 2013 — an alarming 45% increase from 8,541 cases registered in 2012.
The response to rising child sex abuse needs to evolve from being incident-specific and reactive to one that is institutional. From the government’s side there is yet to be any strong action. This is worrying as the incidents of abuse continue to be reported.
A first step is to make school managements liable under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act. The Act needs to strengthen provisions related to the liability of school managements — which are responsible for hiring the staff and the supervision of children while on campus.
Second, research confirms that almost 50% of child abusers are repeat offenders. Countries such as the US and Britain have centralised online databases for sexual offences. The Pocso Act must be amended to ensure that all convicted sex offenders register with the police within three days of their conviction. A record of sexual offenders who are cautioned or released from prison should also be maintained.
Third, the government must send a message of ‘zero tolerance’ by denying perpetrators anticipatory bail under the Pocso Act. Fourth, as of July, except Delhi, no other courts have been instituted under the Pocso Act. Failure to set up these courts means that the children are denied a child-friendly system and has resulted in a high pendency rate of 84%.
Finally, amendments to the Act will have to be made in conjunction with concerted efforts towards sensitising judges and prosecutors trying cases under the Act. Today, they are completely ill-equipped to conduct these trials in a child-friendly manner.
As a nation, we continue to let down our children. The Modi government needs to change this by making child safety a priority for the next five years, to tackle this scourge head-on, with a combined effort of legislation, enforcement and advocacy. We owe it to our children to make India a country where they can grow to their promise.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal