June 26, 2010

Times of India

Teachers tread warily around sexual harassment incidents

MUMBAI: Sexual harassment is one of those prickly subjects that never makes it to the school curriculum. And when instances of harassment or abuse do occur at schools or colleges, most institutions sweep the matter under the carpet for fear of damaging their reputation. In several cases in the past, when girls have been molested by school staff, peons, etc, management often chose to hush up the matter or not take the complaints seriously.

The principal of a suburban school, which ultimately sacked a bus driver for sexually harassing a kindergarten student a year ago, told TOI that the child in question may not have got the facts right and may have imagined the incident. Another suburban school successfully hushed up a similar incident by threatening parents with dire consequences if they spoke to the press.

When a teenager from a popular Churchgate college was dragged out of the college premises and forced into a taxi by a spurned suitor, the lady principal of the college was far more upset about the newspaper coverage that the incident received than the fact that one of her students was in danger of being raped. And though the girl was rescued by a passerby, neither her parents nor the college were particularly interested in following the case to its logical conclusion, or getting the boy arrested.

“I think it’s important for principals to understand that the damage done to their reputation is not a patch on the trauma that victims of harassment face,’’ said social psychologist Chandni Parekh, who has developed modules on sexual harassment that she has conducted in schools and colleges. “I know of a number of instances where parents accompany children for gymnastics classes and swimming lessons, to ensure that the child is not harassed by the instructor,’’ she said, adding that many school counsellors may not be not equipped to deal with cases of trauma and sexual abuse.

June 24, 2010



Centre moves to protect children from cruelty

New Delhi: The Union government is in the process of bringing about a comprehensive law to prevent all forms of cruelty to children.If the proposed law goes to its intended end, acts like kissing a child on the lips, fondling his or her private parts and inflicting physical penalty on him or her in the name of disciplining would attract imprisonment of 10-14 years.

The proposed law also seeks tough punishment in the cases of harmful traditions that endanger the life or limb of a child and neglect of a child by parents or guardians.
The draft of the special law — prevention of offences against the child bill - has been piloted by the ministry of women and child development (WCD) and is pending with the law and justice ministry for fine-tuning. It is understood that given the sensitivity involved in the legislation, the proposed law is being handled directly by solicitor general of India Gopal Subramaniam.

The major reform in the proposed legislation includes raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years. Which means having sexual relationship with a child below 18 years will amount to rape.

Criminal responsibility of a child, which begins after seven years of age at present, is being increased to 12 years. This means no offence committed by a child below 12 years will be considered an offence and he/she would be presumed innocent. The proposed law also seeks to raise the age of ‘immaturity’ — the age at which he is unable to understand the consequences of his action - to 15 years. The present age is below 12 years under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), section 83.

The proposed law recommends a jail term up to three years and a fine of up to Rs25,000 for corporal punishment. The definition of corporal punishment now includes violence, cruelty and inhuman or degrading treatment by any person, including a child’s family members, school, relatives, friends, prisons and juvenile homes. IPC sections 232, 324, 325, 326, 341 and 342 will be applicable under such circumstances.

To prevent the growing trend of “child goddesses”, the proposed law bans dedicating a child to the service of any deity, idol, object of worship, temple or any other religious institution. The offence can attract rigorous punishment up to 14 years and fine up to Rs10 lakh. It also bans child beggars or forcing children to seek alms.

“Though a few offences are covered under various sections in the Indian Penal Code, it is mainly in a disjointed manner. We are bringing a comprehensive legislation which will cover all sorts of offences against the child,” said WCD minister Krishna Tirath. The minister is keen to table the bill in the monsoon session of the parliament.
Stressing on child-related jurisprudence and reforms in existing laws to protect children, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Shantha Sinha emphasised on fast-tracking cases involving children and handling these in a more sensitive way.

“There is need for adequate penal provisions for restitution, reparation and rehabilitation of a child for its life with dignity,” the NCPCR chairperson said.

WCD ministry officials said there is a lot of duplication and overlapping in the existing laws. The proposed law would be more comprehensive and being a special law will prevail over any other existing law coming in conflict with it.

June 21, 2010

Times of India

Girls hitting puberty before 10,says study

Growing numbers of girls are reaching puberty before the age of 10,raising fears of increased sexual activity among a new generation of children.

Scientists believe the phenomenon could be linked to obesity or exposure to chemicals in the food chain,and is putting girls at greater longterm risk of breast cancer.

A study conducted by researchers at University Hospital in Copenhagen has revealed that breast development in a sample of 1,000 girls started at an average age of 9 years and 10 months an entire year earlier than when a similar cohort was examined in 1991.
Hitting puberty early can mean longer exposure to oestrogen,which is a factor in breast cancer.There is also a greater risk of heart disease.

A number of artificially produced chemicals have been blamed for interfering with sexual development,notably bisphenol A,a plastic found in the lining of tin cans and babies feeding bottles.Another factor in puberty could be diet.Kids are eating more than previous generations and growing bigger many are turning obese.

Puberty for girls begins at 9 now

London, June 13 : A large number of girls are now reaching puberty before the age of 10, say scientists who believe the phenomenon could be linked to obesity or exposure to chemicals in the food chain.

A study has revealed that breast development in a sample of 1,000 girls started at an average age of nine years and 10 months - an entire year earlier than when a similar cohort was examined in 1991.

The research was conducted in Denmark in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available, but experts say the trend applies to Britain and other parts of Europe.

Data from America also point to the earlier onset of puberty.

The scientists have warned that such young girls are ill-equipped to cope with sexual development when they are still at primary school, and they could be at a greater long-term risk of developing breast cancer.

"We were very surprised that there had been such a change in a period of just 15 years," The Times quoted Anders Juul, head of the Department of Growth and Reproduction at the University hospital in Copenhagen, a world leader in the study of hormones and growth, as saying.

"If girls mature early, they run into teenage problems at an early age and they're more prone to diseases later on. We should be worried about this regardless of what we think the underlying reasons might be. It's a clear sign that something is affecting our children, whether it's junk food, environmental chemicals or lack of physical activity," Juul added.

Times of India

Sex education can start at age 5: UK watchdog

LONDON: Sex education should be taught to children from the age of five to give them the skills and confidence to delay sexual intimacy until they are ready, a British health watchdog said on Thursday.

Inadequate sex education at a young age is widely seen as contributing to Britain’s steep rate of teenage conception, still amongst the highest in Europe despite a 13% fall over the past decade.

The latest guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is in draft form and will not be compulsory, but the agency said it expected local authorities and others to follow it.

NICE said school governors should ensure education about sex and relationships and alcohol starts in primary school, which British children attend from the age of five. “Topics should be introduced and covered in a way that is appropriate to the maturity of pupils,” it said.

June 6, 2010

Times of India

Anti-grooming’ software will catch online paedophiles

LONDON: Scientists have developed “anti-grooming” software, which can detect whether kids may be chatting with an adult posing as a child or a teenager on the internet.

The program, which has been developed by Lancaster University, uses language analysis technique to detect fraudsters. The key is that people of a particular age group have a particular vocabulary. Computer experts believe it could be a significant breakthrough in helping to catch paedophiles.

Researchers believe the software could eventually be used to pick up on “stylistic footprints” used by paedophiles, which would help police track them as they move around the internet.

In a study, when the software was installed on some computers, it correctly worked out whether it was an adult or a child using a chatroom in 47 cases out of 50 — including when an adult was pretending to be a child.

“Paedophiles often pose as children online and our research indicates that children don’t find it easy to spot an adult pretending to be a child,” the Independent quoted professor Awais Rashid, from Lancaster University’s computing department, as saying.

“We hope to develop a system which can pick up on quirks of language particular to a certain age group. These language patterns can help us expose adults who seek to groom children online.

“The software looks at a range of things, for example, the structure of sentences, the language which is being used and also things which indicate deception.”

It is hoped that an early working version of the software could be available by next summer.

Times of India

HCs often lax in convicting accused’

Apex Court Finds 2,280 Cases Of Rape, Murder Stayed By HCs
New Delhi: Ever wondered why so many accused in heinous crimes — murder, rape, kidnapping and dacoity — roam around for years before the law catches up with them?

This question bothered the Supreme Court a lot and it found that the High Courts were mainly responsible for such a sorry state of affairs. For, they have stayed the proceedings in these cases and forgotten all about them for years

As many as 2,280 cases relating to murder, rape, kidnapping and dacoity have been stayed by HCs at various — FIR, investigation, framing of charges and trial — stages and then left in the limbo, possibly allowing the accused to remain at large on bail. A Bench comprising Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly sought assistance from Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam for collating data on cases relating to the four categories of heinous crimes which have been stayed by HCs after it found an identical situation pointed out in a petition filed by Imtiaz Ahmed, where the Allahabad HC had stayed a criminal case since April 2003.

The efforts by the SG to collate such cases threw up startling facts:
Murder cases stayed at various stages by HCs were 1,021 (45% of the total cases), rape cases 492, kidnapping cases 550 and dacoity 217

As many as 41% of the 2,280 cases were pending for 2-6 years and 8% for more than 8 years. Of a total of 178 cases pending for more than 6 years, 97 were murder cases

Calcutta High Court appears to be the most liberal when it came to staying cases relating to heinous crimes accounting for 31% of the 2,280 cases. Allahabad High Court was not far behind having stayed 29% of the cases

In most of the cases across the HCs, the duration for which the case is pending varied from 1 to 4 years. It is seen that 34 out of 201 cases in Patna HC and 33 out of 653 cases in Allahabad HC were pending for more than 8 years After perusing the enormity of the situation and having regard to the case in hand that related to Allahabad HC, the Bench headed by Justice Singhvi requested the counsel for the High Court to furnish data about the number of cases which have been stayed at the stage of investigation or trial and listed the matter for further hearing on July 9.The report was submitted to the court by Subramaniam, who took assistance of Dr Pronab Sen and Dr G S Manna, secretary and deputy director in the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, in studying the data supplied by various HCs. The SG, in the concluding part of the report, said “the factfinding exercise by the Supreme Court has revealed a problem of serious dimension” and suggested that the apex court would be well within its jurisdiction to direct the HCs to dispose of the matter within a year from the date of grant of stay in cases relating to heinous crimes.


Imported rapists turn New Delhi into danger zone

New Delhi: That Delhi is the nation’s rape capital is well-known. What is not known is that a major chunk of criminals which has made it earn the dubious reputation are “outsiders”.

These are fly-by-night migrant labourers, mostly school dropouts aged 17-23 years, who come to the capital in search of work and disappear after 5-6 months.
According to a recent assessment by the Delhi Police crime branch, of the 185 rapes registered in the capital till May 15 this year, the accused in 52% cases were school dropouts.

“In most cases, the accused are dropouts who left school between the 6th and 8th grades,” a senior police officer said.
Over 84% of the rapes were recorded at 85 police stations, exactly 50% of the total number of police stations in Delhi.

“The people living in most of these areas [in northeast, south and northwest Delhi] belong to economically weak sections of society.
They are part of the migrating population that comes in search of work and leaves after a few months,” the officer said.

“These areas are semi-urban colonies that are densely populated. They have a huge number of clusters of one-room accommodations. The people living in these colonies are mainly daily wage workers,” he said.

The police assessment also revealed that in more than 96% of cases, the accused were known to victims. “There are cases where cousins or other family members assaulted girls,” the officer said.
“Though we have solved most cases, sometimes it is difficult to trace accused because they leave for their villages after committing crimes in the city,” he said.