Fewer children were brutalised in 2015 than 2014. And yet, 451 girls were raped before they could celebrate their sixth birthday, and another 1,151 before their twelfth. That means a girl, not old enough to begin primary school, and three others yet to enter their teens, were raped every day in 2015.
Four out of every 10 victims below the age of 12 were either in Maharashtra (365 cases), or Delhi (227).
And this does not include kids such as the six-year-old girl in a Mathura village who was raped and murdered last month by her father’s friend. Or the six-year-old in south Delhi’s Begumpur who was killed after being raped, allegedly by a man who told police that he had killed 15 children after raping them since 2008.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) would count these crimes as murder, not rape. But rape—or sexual assault—is only one side of the tragedy.
The NCRB report suggests that for every sexual assault reported under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012, another child faced sexual abuse or harassment in some form or the other.
In 2015, the NCRB recorded nearly 15,000 cases under this law. However, most crimes go unreported.
A 2007 study sponsored by the Centre had estimated that every second child in India had faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.
Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest sexual abuse.
It was this study that forced the bureaucracy to recognise the dark reality in India.
Around the world, Unicef estimates around 1 in 10 girls under the age of 20—120 million in all—having been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts at some point of their lives.
A few years ago, officials had vehemently opposed suggestions from child rights activists to incorporate a specific provision to deal with child pornography.
The findings about rampant sexual abuse convinced authorities that non-penetrative sex too was sexual abuse and scarred children for life.
A police officer said it was this provision to recognise non-penetrative sexual assault as a crime—introduced by a panel headed by former home secretary GK Pillai—that the conviction rate under POCSO Act was a little higher than under the Indian Penal Code.
But it is still too low to be a deterrent. Nearly 42% of all POCSO cases ended in a conviction in 2015 whereas less than 33% conviction rate meant courts convicted only one in every three accused facing rape charges under the penal code. The other two were set free.