The horrific rape and brutalisation of a four-year-old in Delhi this week puts the spotlight again on one of India's most shameful realities.
Earlier this month, a Delhi High Court judge said child sexual abuse has reached "epidemic" proportions. The astute observation underscores the urgent need for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to commit to an actionable road-map to end child sexual abuse. Incidentally, that is the central point of my Change.org petition to the PM.
India has the shameful distinction of being home to the largest number of sexually abused children in the world. In a sample study conducted in 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development reported the following bewildering facts:
Of all children in India, 53% have been subject to some form of sexual abuse. Every fifth child has faced severe sexual abuse, including sexual assault, making the child fondle private parts, making the child exhibit private body parts and being photographed in the nude.
Every 155th minute, a child below 16 is raped in India and one below 10 is raped every 13th hour.
One would imagine the figures would prompt the government and the administrative machinery to spring into action. Lamentably, this has not been the case.
Over the last year, I have asked the women and child development ministry a series of questions in Parliament on the issue. The responses I received exposed the indifference of governments over the last 68 years to the safety and well-being of our children.
Here are the four worst responses this year from the ministry. These had me very concerned, some even made me very angry.
Who is in charge of India's Orphans?
In response to a question where I inquired about the number of orphans in India, the ministry responded that "no such data was centrally maintained". A Human Rights Watch report suggests that orphans are especially vulnerable to sexual assault, amongst other forms of abuse.
A study by SOS Children's Village India estimates that there are as many as 20 million orphans in India, which is as much as 4% of the country's population -almost double the population of my home city Bangalore!
Orphans are listed in the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution, which means that the ministry does have a responsibility towards orphans. In the light of these facts, it is dismaying that it has washed its hands off protecting millions of vulnerable orphaned children.
WCD gets fined for doublespeak in Parliament and Supreme Court
In response to another question I raised last July on missing children, the ministry said "79,721 children have gone missing during 2013-2015". However, the ministry in its affidavit filed in the apex court shortly before, on 27 April, said 25,834 kids went missing during 2013-15.
The discrepancy in the figures is glaring and highlights the appalling casualness with which these questions are responded to. The Supreme Court in this instance, fined the ministry a sum of Rs 50,000.
I am unsure, however, if this will in itself create a sea change in the ministry's attitude towards its responsibilities. Meanwhile, India's missing children continue to get trafficked, neglected and sexually abused.
WCD has NEVER reviewed the functioning of Women and Child Helplines
Women and child helplines are often the first point of contact for a distressed and abused child. It is self-evident that these helplines must functional well and be monitored effectively in order to serve their purpose.
In response to a question on the performance review of these helplines, I was told "the Ministry of Women and Child Development has not undertaken any study on the working of women and child help-lines." Note that the child helpline, 1098, was set up in 1996, and has been functioning for almost two decades now without any government having reviewed its effectiveness even once!
NCPCR a Paper Tiger, Pocso Poorly Implemented
In response to my question in July, the ministry revealed the following: Of the 6,816 alleged perpetrators booked under the Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, only 166 convictions have been made, whereas 389 accused have been acquitted. The conviction rate under the act, therefore, is a paltry 2.4%. The tragic corollary to this, is that pendency rates for child rape cases have actually increased from 20,594 in 2010 to 37,519 in 2014 - a massive 84% jump.
In short, The Pocso Act has so far been poorly implemented. One of the reasons for this is that the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, functioned for a year without a chairperson - despite my raising this with the Minister on the floor of the House on several occasions.
The NCPCR is the statutory custodian of the constitutional rights of children - it is among various things, charged with the implementation and monitoring of the Pocso Act. The NCPCR has thus failed our children.
This response to child sexual abuse needs to evolve from being incident specific and reactive, to being robust and responsive. This culture of apathy needs to come to an end.
Sign my @Change.org petition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to commit to a roadmap to address child sexual abuse: www.change.org/ProtectOurChildren
SOURCE: CatchNews, October 13th 2015: http://www.catchnews.com/life-society-news/even-the-courts-say-child-abu...