The Breakthrough Voice 15th July, 2019

Rampantly Increasing Violence Against Children – Will POCSO Step In?.

Trigger warning: references to sexual violence, violence against children and communal violence.

Violence against children has been on a steady rise. If we compare the number of cases from 2006 with 2016, it can be seen that there has been a 500% increase. The increasing numbers are quite noticeably gradual. For example, in 2014, the number of cases was 89,423 and in 2015 it was 94,172 and 106,958 reported cases in 2016. 

The provision made to deal with such cases requires far more development and falters in having a certain amount of robustness. The provision made to deal with cases in relation to child sexual abuse is known as Protection of Children from Sexual Offences or the POCSO Act. There are quite a few areas which need further clarification to deal with cases prevalent today. 

Any form of sexual contact between adolescents or between an adolescent and an adult, irrespective of it being consensual, will be deemed illegal by POCSO. There are no exceptions. Additionally, with the age of consent increasing from age 16 to 18 in the Indian Penal Code, it puts a far larger number of people under the ambit of the act of sexual assault. 

It is also the primary reason why many accused persons try to take the defence of trying to prove that the survivor/victim is actually not a minor, but an adult instead. In Kanpur, a teacher raped a 15-year-old girl. On reaching the madrassa (a religious educational institution), the perpetrator was reported to have taken the girl to his room and sexually assaulted her. The girl raised cries, but no one, including two other female teachers who were present there, came to help her. 

Many accused persons try to take the defence of trying to prove that the survivor/victim is actually not a minor, but an adult instead.

She escaped and made her way home. Once she told her mother, the mother took her to the police station where a report was filed – a case under relevant sections of the POCSO Act, 2012 for sexually assaulting a minor was filed against the teacher and the two others who aided him. After launching a massive manhunt, the police found the accused trying to flee. In his defence, he said, that the survivor’s family was lying about her age. She’s not a minor. He also stated that he got ‘physically involved’ with her after getting married or performing nikah with her. 

There are still a very large number of cases that are not reported. A contributing factor to that is a sense of embarrassment and stigma. Families of the survivor/victim don’t usually want the word to go out to society because of “what will people say?” The other reason why cases go unreported is that a lot of the times the police start taking sides. They are even willing to go to the extent to destroy evidence to help the accused because they have some sort of interest lying with that party.

There is an urgent need for a change of mindset. One might argue that increasing literacy levels is a sign of mindset change – increasing literacy rates with them being at 71.96% in 2015, higher than in previous years. It is assumed that a literate population is more willing to learn and understand the concept of consent, good touch and bad touch. However, a formally literate population does not guarantee a change in thought and belief system. 

This can be further elaborated in cases where revenge has become a motivation for sexual assault. Six men gang-raped a 12-year-old girl Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar district in front of her family on 7th June 2019. She was sexually assaulted as an act of revenge, because of a dispute with the girl’s family regarding the construction of a drain. The men forcibly entered her home and dragged her outside. Her parents tried to defend her but they were beaten up. 

On the 8th of June, a complaint was filed and the case was registered by the 9th. Four of the accused have been on the run since. The perpetrators have been charged under Sections 376 (rape), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation), 147 (rioting), 452 (trespassing after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 504 (intentional insult with intent to cause breach of peace) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Revenge has become a motivation for sexual assault.

On 22nd June 2017, 15-year-old Junaid, a Muslim boy, boarded a train at the Sadar Bazar railway station in North Delhi. He and two others were visiting Delhi to shop for Eid and were returning home to Haryana. A mob attacked them over an argument about a seat and their religious identity. Communal slurs were hurled at them, they had their skullcaps thrown away, beards pulled, slapped and then they were stabbed. They were also accused of eating beef before being repeatedly stabbed. Junaid’s body and his two injured brothers were then thrown on to the railway station platform. 

Institutions itself, at the root level, set up to protect its own people, are not willing to perform their duties. How can we expect POCSO to be implemented at an effective scale? One of the most effective ways of preventing violence against children is through law. If those who are part of the implementation of law do not believe in the workings of the law itself, how will something as serious and fundamental as violence against children stop? It makes no sense to have the law – if there is no one to implement it. 

Under POCSO crimes – for every person in custody there were 1.2 on bail at the beginning of 2015. By the end of the year, the number doubled to 2.4. That meant that there were more than double the chances of the possible perpetrator being out on bail than being in custody. Out of all the accused under POCSO related crimes, less than half of them are convicted.

Now there is no issue with the concept of bail. It is perfectly legal and systematic. However, the problem arises when repeated perpetrators are allowed to roam free and wreak havoc on society. If the law itself does not serve its very reason for existence, which is to protect and serve the people – there will never be a reduction in such cases against children. India shall continue on its path to becoming a leader of crimes against women and children.

Also Read: Child Sexual Abuse: Why India Has A Long Way To Go


Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: The Globe Post

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