As many as 109 children were sexually abused every day in India in 2018 according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). 39827 cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) were reported in that year. But on an average, the conviction rate in child rape cases is less than 30% and pendency of cases is as high as 80-85%. India has come a long way in enacting legislations and legal measures to handle cases of child sexual abuse. But the crimes continue unabated.

In Tamilnadu, nearly half of all crimes against children in 2018 are sexual offences and it rose 250% in the last 5 years according to an analysis done by CRY, an NGO. The CPI(M) compiled details of such instances during the Covid-19 pandemic and sent a representation along with suggestions  to the Chief Minister and State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) calling for their attention and action.

We are fully aware of the empty slogans given by the BJP government about beti bachao beti padao on the one hand and how they turn a blind eye to the reality on the other hand, where the girl children are raped, murdered, married off and malnourished. But they are so obsessed with communists and leftists that they blame them for all the ills of the society. Even recently, a leader of the RSS in Tamilnadu, Shri Gurumurthy has tweeted “Marx’s notion of communism would want to transform the central gender relation from marriage to generalised prostitution”. Marx and Engels have replied long back to all such mischievous interpretations through Communist Manifesto.  The regressive ideology of Sangh Parivar and their twisted outlook on gender relations do have a strong impact on the increasing incidence of violence against women and children. Capitalism nurtures the subordinate status of women, whether they are workers or home makers, to intensify the exploitation in search of profits. The neo liberal market ideology in different dimensions creates a climate where the body of women and children is increasingly commoditized making them vulnerable targets of violence.

Shadow pandemic

The United Nations has declared the increasing violence against women and children as ‘shadow pandemic’ and urged governments to bestow equal importance to addressing this just as they do to cope with pandemic. In this background, in Tamilnadu, the CPI(M) took the initiative to impress upon the government to pay attention to this urgent task.  Reports on 61 incidents of child sexual abuse, one honour crime and one human sacrifice based on superstition were collected from media as well as from AIDWA between January and July 2020. AIDWA TN has intervened in nearly 40 of these cases. The youngest victim is a 75 days infant who was raped by her father. The age of victim varies from 75 days to 17 years, but mostly falls in the 7-14 age group. 6 victims were murdered in addition to rape. 13 were gang rapes in which the number of accused varied between 2 and 7. In 5 cases, the culprit is victim’s own father and in one case both father and grandfather committed rape. In two cases, victim’s mother was arrested as abetting the crime. In 5 instances, the victim became pregnant, out of which 4 were due to father’s rape and one, due to father and grandfather raping the girl. In addition to this, a 14 year old girl delivered a baby due to gang rape committed on her. As far as we know, two victims were persons with disability. In 9 cases, accused were minors. In one of the cases, accused was an ex MLA of the ruling party.

In most of the cases, FIRs have been registered under the POCSO Act but many of them were filed only after pressure and protest action from AIDWA and in some cases from AIDWA with DYFI and SFI. The police personnel are still not sensitive about child survivors of abuse and instances of bringing them to police station for enquiry, making them wait in the station with the same dress which they were wearing when rape was committed or visiting the child’s home in police uniform keep happening. Right from the introduction of POCSO Act, women’s organisations are having a tough time in making the police follow its letter and spirit. Last year, in a case in Salem, the child was hospitalised and a policeman with uniform barged into the ward, asked the parents to go away and then interrogated the child.

In an instance in Krishnagiri where the gangrape survivor was a person with speech impairment, investigation was done without a proper sign language interpreter. That and other local factors prompted AIDWA to file a case in the High Court asking for CBI investigation. The court, instead of limiting itself to the merits of transfer to a different investigation authority, went on to comment that parents inflict injuries on their girls to settle scores with their enemies and prima facie it appeared that the father had trumped up the rape charges. The High Court almost conducted a trial of the case! Then it was transferred to CB-CID. After investigation, it was expected that charges would be framed on the culprits, but to everyone’s utter shock, the victim and her mother were charge sheeted by CB-CID for the offence of street brawl! Sometimes, the district child welfare committee’s approach is not child friendly. 

Names of the victims are divulged to the media without any qualms which is against POCSO provisions and it also discourages parents from coming forward to file complaints. The complainants get frustrated and dejected due to the inappropriate conduct of the cases in courts and the inordinate delay.

In most cases of sexual harassment in schools by teachers, we see a pattern that those students who have single mothers are mainly targeted. It has been our experience that when one male teacher faces the complaint, other teachers are normally mute spectators or they intimidate children in support of the accused. The role of teachers, family members and community is extremely important both in preventing the cases as well as helping the family of the victims. In a case in Sivagangai district, the teacher who raised the issue of sexual harassment of a colleague against the students was suspended and is still facing a court case. The district education departments are generally concerned only about administrative matters but child sexual abuse in schools is hardly an issue before them. When state governments like Tamilnadu, with an eye on revenue, allow liquor outlets in public places near schools, bus stand, bazaar etc. it gives ample opportunities for sexual bullying of the girl students who walk through such places. Easy access to porn sites through smart phones induce the men and youth to practice what they see and inebriated condition adds fuel to the fire.

Yes, it is an emergency

The post traumatic stress disorder is a tough challenge leaving a deep scar on the children. There is no proper mechanism in the country to cope with it. The statutory financial assistance does not reach many of the families even after years of trauma. According to the response to an RTI query by an NGO, only 3% of POCSO cases that have been committed to court from 2013 to 2018 in 25 districts in Tamilnadu have been awarded interim compensation. In some of the districts, where the number of cases committed to court exceeds 200 or 300, not a single victim has been awarded interim compensation.  Fighting till the end, with non implementation of victim protection measures under the act, is extremely hard for the organisations. But still, amidst such unfavourable situation, certain cases have seen the light of the day. In one of the cases, the accused head master in Madurai was sentenced to 55 years of imprisonment and in another case, 32 years.

Child sexual abuse is a pressing human rights issue and a physical and mental health concern. It has serious consequences for the growth and development of the child. It may have deep relational challenges in the adult life. It is high time we considered this as an emergency. The fight should not be limited to bringing justice to individual victims but be broadened to question the neo liberal policy direction which feeds the situation.