Proactive alert civil society needed to fight against child rape cases

DNA, Jaipur, November, 30 2015

Ever since the tragic Nirbhaya episode hit the headlines, reportage of child rapes (and murders in many cases) have increased causing our blood to curdle. A news report says that there has been an alarming surge in child rape cases in Rajasthan in the past one month. How can (ir)responsible men go around assaulting innocent infants just because they are incapable of resisting.

According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 827 children were raped in the state in 2014 while in 2013 the number was 890. The state ranks as the 4th topmost in rape with minors, with more than two minors being raped every day, reaching epidemic proportions. But worse, the offenders are not evaluated psychologically to understand the causes and find ways to arrest or curb the bestiality.

Close to Jaipur, one recent case hit the headlines when a six-year-old in Sikar was gang raped and dumped. The mother was not allowed to lodge the complaint at the nearest police station because the crime was committed in another police station’s jurisdiction. The law clearly says that any police station, even if the crime falls in another area, has to register a case and refer it to the relevant police station rather than denying the facility to the complainant. If it had been done, then the action to catch the perpetrator(s) could have been launched swiftly. Even the medical staff at a private hospital in Sikar refused first aid care, in spite of a Supreme Court order of 1985 which calls upon any (public or private) medical facility to provide immediate succour to any and all victims of criminal assault or road accidents.

One hopes that the police station incharge who refused to entertain the complaint and the recalcitrant medicos are penalised and an example set for others. The poor girl is fighting for her life and was brought to Jaipur for better treatment. The two perpetrators were also hauled in, thanks to CCTV footage.

Even before the ink could dry on this case, another one hit the newspapers in Sikar. A six year old was raped and murdered by her elder sister’s 32 year old husband. Many such blood curdling cases of rape of infants by relatives and neighbours as has been reported across the country since long.

In a recent order involving child rape, Justice P. S. Teji of Delhi High Court ruled: “Child sex abuse is one of the most pervasive social problems faced by our society. Its impact is profound because of the sheer frequency with which it occurs and because the trauma brought to the lives of the children who have experienced this crime. Child sexual abuse is an epidemic”. The case involved sodomitic rape of a nine-year-old boy and the perpetrators tried to hush the case by financial lure to the father of the victim. The High Court asked the trial court to provide full protection to the young victim to record his statement without any pressure from his parents.

How should the society react to such bestiality? I am reminded of a judgment by the late Guman Mal Lodha of the Rajasthan High Court, many years ago, who ruled that the son and mother-in-law of a dowry victim to be hanged in public for their heinous crime. The apex court stayed the order because it did not sit well in a civilised society. But are these perpetrators civilised? A minimum sentence of life (extending to the whole of the convict’s life) should be laid down as the punishment for child rape, with an option for death penalty.

Dealing with this menace would require not just a more responsive, vigilant and engaged law enforcement agency but a proactive, alert and self-helping civil society. Efforts must be made by the parents, schools, civil society, and government agencies to make the children aware about the unacceptable behaviour they might face, actions they can take and encourage them to speak up about them. Perpetrators of such crimes should not be spared from naming and shaming in the public. A standard toll free number must be created for reporting such incidents.

The victims of child rapes, bear a heightened risk of developing psychological problems for the rest of their lives. Further, such children also face social stigma and discrimination which makes it harder for them to recover. Hence, a criminal penalty is not sufficient remedy in such cases, a provision for monetary compensation must also be provided for tending to child’s health, safety and educational needs.

It is the children from economically disadvantaged sections of the society – like slum dwellers, street children, construction workers and other poorer lot – that are the most vulnerable to rapes and sexual abuse. To help them, the Government should take steps like setting up rehabilitation centres for attending to their health, safety, educational needs. The rehab process should also be long term, culminating in skill development and monetary help for employability or self-employment at adulthood.

Let me end with the Sikar’s six year old’s mother anguished cry, that the perpetrators be hanged.

Secretary General, CUTS International. Sonal Sharma contributed..

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