Sexual abuse in India: ‘Four child survivors every hour’, and a pending legislation

Although a significant social problem, child sexual abuse was publically vehemently denied as an issue for long. It is only recently that it has started to receive attention as a traumatic experience in the lives of children.

0 1,344

The tragic, inhuman and unspeakable act of rape, torture and the murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua jolted the entire nation. It brought to focus the growing menace of child sexual abuse.

Although a significant social problem, child sexual abuse was publically vehemently denied as an issue for long. It is only recently that it has started to receive attention as a traumatic experience in the lives of children.

In the years 2015 and 2016, crime against children in India rose by 11 per cent as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Going by absolute numbers, it was an increase of 12,786 reported crimes against children across the country. The total number of crimes against children reported in 2016 was 1,06,958, while 94,172 crimes were recorded in 2015.

“I used to dream about killing him in the most gruesome ways imaginable. It took a lot of counselling to get over my rage. ” (anonymous quote by a survivor)

According to the National Centre for Victims of Crime, nearly one in five girls and one in twenty boys experienced some form of sexual abuse throughout their lifetime, globally.

There is not just a rise in the incidences of child sexual abuse but the nature of crime itself has become barbaric.

In 95 per cent of all rape cases, the offender knew the victim, as per 2015 NCRB. For instance, 27 per cent of rapes were committed by neighbours, and nine per cent by immediate family members and relatives.

Madhya Pradesh with 4,391 cases, Maharashtra with 4,144, Rajasthan with 3,644, Uttar Pradesh with 3,025, Odisha with 2,251 and Delhi with 2,199 recorded the highest number of reported rape cases. However, it must be noted that a lower rape count could mean a lower ‘reported’ rape count. States that do better on other gender parity metrics (literacy rate, sex ratio, workforce participation etc.) are likely to see a higher count of reported rapes because more survivors try to access the justice system.

Also Read : Cyber child abuse: High gravity concern to contain

For example, Kerala reported 1,256 rapes while Bihar reported 1,041 rapes, despite the fact that the population of Bihar is three times the population of Kerala.

Why is the menace growing?

Children are becoming easy prey due to their tender age , physical vulnerabilities and inexperience towards life and society .The 2014 UNICEF study, estimates that around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Boys also report experiences of sexual violence, albeit less in number.

“Cry Foundation reported that in India, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes. Among the 1,04,976 cases registered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act during the year 2014-16, 36,022 cases were alone reported in 2016; out of which 19,765 were rape and 12,262 were of sexual assault.”

Jind Rape Case

The body of a 15-year-old girl from Jind, Haryana, who had been missing for three days, was found in the village of Jhansa, brutally gangraped. 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 shockingly risen to 532.

Panipat Rape case

An incident of gruesome 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 (or committing sexual activities with dead bodies).

While the two accused in the case, Pradeep Kumar (27) and Sagar (22) had been arrested by the police, after they had confessed to raping, murdering and performing sexual intercourse on the corpse, the occurrence of a second rape of a minor, days within the incident in Jind indicated the growing number of cases.

Surat Rape case

The NCRB record of rape of minors in Gujarat show a sharp rise – from 1,059 minor survivors in 2015 to a total of 1,120 in 2016. An 11-year-old girl with as many as 86 injury marks on her body was found in 2018.

Considering these gruesome facts, there is a strong need to take stringent measures to deter the rising number of such cases in the country.

The amendments to the POCSO Act provides for death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children, making it gender neutral and introducing provisions against child pornography and for enhancing punishment for certain offences. The act accords paramount importance to the safety and benefit of the child so as to ensure the healthy physical, emotional and intellectual development of the child.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences.

“The proposed amendments to POCSO Act make provisions for enhancement of punishments for various offences so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security and dignified childhood.”

It also empowers the Central Government to make rules for the manner of deleting or destroying or reporting about pornographic material in any form involving a child.

Also Read : Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights: An Insight on the Medico-Legal Status

The Act defines “aggravated penetrative sexual assault”.  A few relevant amendments have been made to the existing POCSO Act to deal with the punishment for offences for using children for pornographic purposes which has been increased from a maximum of five years to a minimum of five years. However, offences resulting in aggravated sexual offences have been amended to a maximum punishment of seven years which was ten in the precedent bill.

The amendments are also proposed in Section 9 to protect children from sexual offences in times of natural calamities and disasters and in cases where children are administered any hormone or any chemical substance to attain early sexual maturity for the purpose of penetrative sexual assault.

The Act penalises the storage of pornographic material for commercial purposes with a punishment of up to three years, or a fine, or both. In addition to this, the bill also includes punishments for not destroying pornographic material or propagating it but not reporting the offence to the concerned authorities.

This is expected to discourage the trend of child sexual abuse by acting as a deterrent due to strong penal provisions incorporated in the Act.

It may protect the interest of vulnerable children in times of distress and ensure their safety and dignity.

(Slider Photo credit: Action Aid India)