June 4, 2012

Exploiters of children, beware

Sania (name changed), 13, was abducted and forced to entertain drug addicts and paedophiles. This seventh standard student from a remote mountainous Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir, escaped from a trafficking net patronised by a Delhi businessman, two years ago. She was witness to spine-chilling accounts of how dozens of minor girls were kidnapped, drugged, sold, re-sold and forced to act as sex slaves. Every inch of her state may be dotted with security agencies but Sania’s case is stuck in a legal logjam. Her tormentors are yet to be punished.
Further down, in the western state of Goa, it took almost two decades to blow the cover of Dr Freddy Peats, also known as Father Christmas. Since 1974 he ran an orphanage, Gurukul, for destitute children near Colva beach in South Goa. It was only much later that people realised that he was a child abuser who exploited these destitute children and sold them to paedophiles from abroad. He was arrested in 1991 and convicted to life imprisonment in 1996.
The coastal state has seen a substantial growth in the number of foreign paedophiles, many of whom have evaded legal conviction due to grave loopholes in our legal system.
Righting a wrong
Child rights activists now believe that the new Child Sexual Abuse law approved by the parliament last week is a great deterrent to those who sexually exploit children. The new law will cover all new aspects of sexual offences against children not covered elsewhere, including protecting children against offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.
“The bill will protect children from sexual offences, as the burden of proof will be on the accused,” says Krishna Tirath, Women and Child Development minister.
The minister says that often, the perpetrators of child abuse escape due to legal loopholes in the Indian penal code (IPC). The IPC does not spell out the definition of child abuse as a specific offence; neither does it offer legal remedy and punishment. All kinds of sexual offences, barring rape, are covered under Section 354. Child abuse involving anal and oral sex is not treated as rape but as molestation.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011 was earlier approved by the Rajya Sabha. Tirath said that all children below 18 years of age would now be treated as children, and that efforts have been made to keep provisions of the bill child-friendly.
Fear of misuse
During the debate, some MPs including Laloo Prasad Yadav raised the issue of misuse of thelaw. Earlier laws like TADA and POTA, where burden of proof rested with the accused, have seen repeated cases of misuse by the police who even book pickpockets and other petty criminals under those laws. Tirath, however, adds that provisions will be made to deal with false complaints.
“Under the new law, even stalking a girl child could attract punishment, 10 years to life imprisonment, along with a fine,” says Tirath.
The bill contains provisions for in-camera trial of offences. It also mandates the state governments to set up a Special Court to try the offences under the Act. As per the Bill, “whoever commits penetrative sexual assault on children shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term whichshall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable.” It further says, “Whoever uses a child for pornographic purposes shall be liable for rigorous imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine”.
Rising incidents of rape of children aged below 13 years have become a major worry in India, as the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) year after year comes out with figures of these atrocities. According to the 2011 report, there were a total of 26,694 reported cases of crimes committed against children in 2010. The national average rate for crimes against children was 2.3 per 100,000 people. The state of Madhya Pradesh, with 6.1% of the population, was responsible for 18.4% of all crimes against children; Delhi, with 1.5% of the population, was responsible for 13.6%. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra accounted for 35.2% of child rape cases.
Education is key
More than stringent provisions of law, activists believe that promoting active participation in community life and nurturing that involvement through training and education was important to restore social health and stability. Child rights activist Hasina Kharbih also believes that laws alone would not protect children.
Emphasising the need for awareness, she demands incorporating child rights awareness as part of the curriculum, making it mandatory for all schools to teach children about child sexual abuse. “That will increase the level of awareness because then if a child faces sexual abuse, s/he will be more likely to report it to a concerned authority,” she adds.

No comments: