January 21, 2010
Times of India
We need a separate set of child laws
Pinki Virani (Ruchika Rathore case) - Winner of a national award for Bitter Chocolate, an eye-opener book on child sexual abuse, author-activist Pinki Virani tells Nandita Sengupta the nation has let down its children in the Ruchika Girhotra case.
You have said that government response to the Girhotra case is appalling.
In the national outrage on Ruchika, government has missed the woods for the trees. I'm appalled that the law minister says we will now strengthen the molestation law. He doesn't realise that a child is not an adult and it's not only girls who are abused. Boys are lost in the national discourse on molestation. For one, the molestation law does not cover boys. Cutting across all classes, 25 per cent boys are sexually abused at any point in time. That means one in four under-16 boys. The count is 40 per cent for girls, but don't ignore the boys. We need a separate set of child laws. The nation is in complete denial about child abuse. Statistics of missing children are staggering. Where do they go? Instead of looking at real reform, government is seized by this molestation law, playing adult games.
What would be the ambit of child laws?
Child protection laws would include any crime inflicted on a child by an adult: sexual and porn, physical and emotional, ragging, corporal punishment. Within this, you recognise differences: family abuse and outsider abuse. Right now, judges use their discretion to let off molesters from within family with shorter sentences. So merely increasing punishment on paper or increasing number of women in the force, as the minister has suggested, is no solution. New laws that recognise various issues around child abuse are need of the hour. International police is worried that India has become a paedophile hub. It is easy to pull our children into international porn racket because we have no laws. Even if the paedophilia racket hasn't reached middle and upper class homes yet, it has certainly reached every street kid.
But laws apart, to encourage reporting of abuse, we need a child protection court. That only means the child doesn't go to a kacheri. He goes to any normal room where there are toys, the judge sits casually, not behind a bench. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the child's testimony is taken down only once on video. The perpetrator is not present in the room. All this doesn't take any extra money. It takes political will and parental demand.
How can laws help if mindsets don't change?
Child sexual abuse is never going to cease, until the adult in a position of power realises that responsibility is not about abuse. We need adult awareness of boundaries especially when it comes to the child. Who puts these boundaries: families. Families protect their children. But the ignorance is such that you teach children to cross the road but you're not teaching them to protect themselves from anything else.
Airport scanners may break child porn laws
The new body scanners introduced at UK's airports threaten to breach child-protection laws, which ban the creation of indecent images of children . Images too graphic, say UK's privacy campaigners. Govt faces demands to exempt under-18s from scans.
However, Stephen Phispson, president of Smiths Detection, the world's largest maker of full-body scanners insists that the machines only show outlines - blurred images, and that they are far less intrusive than the traditional pat down of the body.
Times of India
Crimes against women rise fastest /
Ruchikas Abound Thanks To Tardy Investigation
Ruchika Girhotras case may be a particularly outrageous example, but things have been getting progressively worse for women in India. Official data shows that crimes against them are rising faster than any other crime. What is worse, investigation of anti-women offences is also tardier than most others.
In 2007, the year for which latest data is available from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), seven of the ten fastest rising crimes in India were against women. While the incidence of all cognizable crimes under the IPC rose by under 5% over the previous year, dowry deaths registered an increase of 15%, cruelty by husband and relatives of 14%, kidnapping and abduction of females by 13%, importation of girls by 12% and sexual harassment by 11%. Rape and molestation cases grew by a more modest 6-7 %, but even that was higher than the average rate.
Despite the rising cases of crimes against women, they would appear to be not in the priority list of the investigating agencies. The NCRB data shows that investigation starts within the same year in only one out of 10 sexual harassment cases and only two out of 10 cases of molestation or cruelty by husbands and relatives. Similarly, only 3 out of 10 rapes and dowry deaths are investigated within the same year.
Delayed investigation, it need hardly be emphasised, not only frustrates the victim but also provides an opportunity to the accused to use his clout in influencing the investigation, as evident in the Ruchika case.
With one in every two brought to trial getting convicted, sexual harassment might have the highest conviction rate among the 22 major crime heads tabulated in the NCRBs Crime in India 2007, but this may have something to do with the fact that sexual harassment is the least severe of all crimes committed against women with the maximum punishment being simple imprisonment for one year, or a fine, or both. For the other crimes against women, the conviction rates are lower than the 35.8% average conviction rate for all cognizable crimes under IPC.
Times of India
Delhi sheds rape capital tag in 09
From 466 Sexual Assault Cases In 08, Last Yr Saw 452
New Delhi: Women have a reason to cheer. Even as Delhi struggles hard to shed its rape capital tag, last year it actually recorded lesser number of rape and molestation cases.
Rape cases recorded a marginal decrease from 466 in 2008 to 452 in 2009. And in 97.35% of the cases, the accused were known to the victims. While 35 of the accused were relatives, 64 were friends, 212 neighbours and 129 other known persons. Around 83% of the accused were either illiterate or school dropouts, 67% were below 25 years of age and 68% belonged to economically weaker section . The police said that in 94.25% of the cases, the accused were arrested.
At least 35 of the 150 police stations did not get any reports of rape at all. Police stations in outer Delhis Bhalsawa Dairy recorded 11 cases, the highest among all police stations . When compared to other mega cities, Delhi recorded less number of rapes than Bhopal, Ludhiana and Indore.
The number of molestation cases also came down from 597 in 2008 to 532 in 2009. And like rape cases, most of the accused47 %were neighbours. Only 5% were strangers while 4% were friends and 6% were relatives.
Eve-teasers too had to think twice before making lewd gestures , for the women felt empowered by the anti-obscene helpline of the Delhi police. It received 12,108 calls out of which 11,625 call actions were taken. Special police arrangements were made around women colleges and hostels in coordination with university authorities.
The women helpline maintained by crime against women (CAW) cell also received 7,354 calls out of which 1,894 calls were related to domestic violence while 3916 calls were about missing girls, 402 were about sexual harassment .
The CAW cell also started a new police station which received nearly 8400 complaints of marital disputes out of which 3579 were settled with mediation and guidance.
Times of India
Sexual offence victims face social stigma -
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows a sharp rise in crimes against women. It might be pertinent here to cite a recent study by the UK government of rape cases in the country, which shows that a majority of convictions in rapes are from admission of guilt and not because of successful trial as the delays in investigation and the social stigma related with sexual offences often force the victims to withdraw the case.
If that's true in the UK, we can imagine how much worse the social pressures in India would be and hence how crucial it is to minimise delays in prosecuting such cases.
Perhaps the Sexual Offences (Special Courts) Bill, 2010 seeking a maximum six months trial period for sexual offences might reduce the influence of the accused on the course of justice and hence provide a fairer trail for the victims of sexual offences.
One out of every three girls in Mumbai is molested:
It is a commendable fact that Ruchika’s family did not give up even after so many years,” said Pooja Taparia, founder and CEO of Arpan, an NGO working on the issue of child sexual abuse.
“Unfortunately, many such cases go unreported.”
“We find very few complaints being lodged, and hardly any action being taken against the perpetrators,” said Taparia, attributing this to the fact that there are “no specific and stringent laws” to tackle the issue of child sexual abuse or even molestation.
“On one end of the spectrum is section 509, which deals with outraging a woman’s modesty and on the other is section 376, which defines punishment for rape. However, there are several other issues ‘in-between’ which neither addresses,” said Taparia.
Pushpa Venkatraman, who has counselled several adult survivors of sexual abuse, agreed. “Issues like touching, non-contact offences like lewd glances, talking furtively, as well as sending obscene MMS clippings, which are happening more and more often now, are not addressed,” said Venkatraman.
“As far as molestation cases are concerned, people either get away on bail, or it takes years for the hearing to come up, or a person can do an out of court settlement very easily,” said Taparia. “Speedy justice, speedy trials, friendly environment for the victim are the need of the hour,” she said.
However, at the bottom of all this, said social activists, is the patriarchal Indian society.
“Many a times, the abuse is done by a known person. In such cases, protecting family honour becomes more important,” said therapist Rita D’Souza.
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