Stringent steps are needed to curb sexual abuse of children
One of the more disturbing trends that we are seeing is the increasing number of sexual abuse cases that target young children. The victims seem to be getting younger by the day. I still get shocked at reading about the rape of a five-year-old, and am rendered completely speechless at the news of the sexual abuse of a 10-month-old baby.
A case that jolted the entire country was the Kathua rape case where an eight-year-old girl was brutally gang-raped and murdered in Kashmir in January 2018. The perpetrators included a caretaker of a temple as well as a police officer. This year, a special court convicted six of the seven accused, of which three have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
There have been several cases in the past few years. In June this year, a 12 year old girl was dragged out of her home in Kushinagar district in the Gorakhpur by six men and raped. The suspects reportedly had an altercation with the girl’s family over the construction of a drain and beat up the family members who tried to intervene.
In the same month, an eight-year-old was raped and strangulated to death in in a Bhopal slum. Her body was found in a sewer and was apparently dumped there by a man who lived close by. June saw a spate of these horrendous cases with two rapes in Aligarh – one of a two year old and another of a four year old. Another incident of terrifying rape of a minor in Haryana took place in the city of Panipat, where an 11-year-old girl was raped and murdered by two of her neighbours, who reportedly committed necrophilia after they had murdered her. In Delhi, a three year old was raped by her maternal uncle. Closer home in Gurugram, this month a 50 year old man raped a 12- year- old girl who lived in his neighbourhood.
Each one of these cases is deeply disturbing. There are several elements that need to be understood and addressed – first the victims are getting younger. Secondly in almost all the cases, the victims are known to the perpetrators and are often neighbours and sometimes even family members. Thirdly, rape is being used as a weapon of revenge to teach a lesson to families and communities. The body of the girl becomes the war field as we see not only in the Kathua and Kushinagar case, but many other cases as well. All these three aspects need to be understood and dealt with. Why are such young children being targeted? What are the psychological as well as sociological factors? If families and communities are unsafe for girls, how do we address this?
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that in 2015, 10,854 cases of rape under Section 376 of the IPC and another 8800 cases were recorded under Sections 4 and 6 of the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. In 2016 a total of19,765 of such cases were registered. Haryana, a state known to be unsafe for women and children, had reported a total of 224 minor rape cases in 2015, according to the NCRB data. In 2016, the number had risen to 532.
Serious actions need to be taken on all fronts, from awareness campaigns, to workshops in schools, engaging with families and communities. It goes without saying that strong and effective policing and working of the justice system is crucial. We still hear of so many cases where the police do not register the case in time or are errant in their response. This has to be dealt with strongly as well. One area where much more work needs to be done is with perpetrators of violence, especially against children and girls.
Co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities