Children are afraid of monsters in the dark. The bogeyman in the closet, the ghost under the bed, the shape changer in the night when the rain licks the windowpanes with a hiss. But the monsters walk among us in broad daylight with innocuous faces and beguiling smiles, offering sweet temptations: a kind uncle whose attentions go a tad too far, a teacher who fondles a little boy more lovingly than needed, a neighbour who offers chocolates and kind words.
Last week, a five-year-old girl in east Delhi was rescued after her rapists—two labourers from Bihar—left her for dead after inveigling her into their house and raping her. They were frightened at the blood and further violated her with bottles to stop the bleeding; then, strangled her and left her to die. They had been watching porn, drinking and felt like having sex. In a macabre irony, on the bed next to hers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences was another small girl who had been raped too. The day before, a little boy, who had been sodomised, had been released from hospital. In Bihar’s Bhojpur district, the four-month-old daughter of a tea vendor was raped last week. After committing the rape in a secluded area, he abandoned the infant and fled the place from where her worried family members later found her. The culprit is on the run.
India is fast joining the list of countries where child rape, molestation and murder is a serious concern. ‘Children in India 2012: A Statistical Appraisal’, a report released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) , reveals that crime against children has gone up by 24 per cent since 2011. The report shows that 48,338 rape cases were registered between 2001 and 2011. Cruelty is the child molester’s leitmotif, rendered even more horrific because of the vulnerability and the young age of the victim. Dr C R Chandrashekar, senior professor of psychiatry, NIMHANS, attributes the rise in crime and cruelty to the influence of media, the sexual content available easily in the Internet, television, magazines, etc. He says, “It is definitely a disease, a kind of sexual perversion with the perpetrators getting sexual release only by violating children. Also there are quacks who tell people that they can be cured of sexually transmitted diseases by having sex with children or virgins.”
The MoSPI report states that “Uttar Pradesh tops the charts for crimes against children, followed by Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra together accounted for 44.5 per cent of child rape cases reported in 2011”. On an average, there are more than 100 cases of rape in a month in Andhra Pradesh. As per the statistics provided by the State Records Crime Bureau, 241 rape cases were registered in the state between January-February this year.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics reveal a 336 per cent increase in child rape cases in the country between 2001 and 2011, most of them committed in juvenile justice homes run and aided by the government.
Nishit Kumar, Head of Communication & Strategic Initiatives, CHILDLINE India Foundation, Mumbai, says, “The 2006 study by the Ministry of Women and Child Development had reported that 53 per cent of children are subject to some form of child sexual abuse (CSA). That is one out of every two children. If you look at that statistic and then contrast with NCRB data on FIRs lodged for CSA cases, you will see that the numbers of FIRs are not even the tip of the iceberg.”
A bizarre example is that the minor who was reported to be the most brutal rapist in the December 16, 2012, gangrape case in Delhi has been sent to a remand home. If the law takes its course, he will be released into society soon. In its latest report ‘India’s Hell Holes’, the Asian Centre for Human Rights reveals such occurrences in Odisha across all districts—from Sambalpur to Cuttack, Sundargarh to Berhampur. In 2010, the then Collector of Nabarangpur invoked Article 311(2)b of the Constitution and sacked Pradipta Kumar Sahu, headmaster of the Bada Ambda Sevashram School, run by the ST and SC Development Department, in Kosagumuda block. Sahu was accused of sexual exploitation of girls, one of whom became pregnant.
A rattled state government ordered an inquiry. “We have repeatedly asked the state government to put in place child protection policies in educational institutions and residential schools but it has fallen on deaf ears,” says Mahendra Parida of Forum Against Child Exploitation (FACE), which works on child rights in Odisha.
A senior deputy collector of the Bihar government, Akhilesh Kumar Singh, has been arrested for allegedly raping his 15-year-old daughter. Babul Prasad, a Patna-based social activist, says immigration to the major metros spike the rape scale; especially in slums, it is easier to get access to victims, mainly children. He says, “Most of the child sexual assault cases by Biharis were reported from outside Bihar. The pace of migration has increased in last couple of years. So many ruffians too migrated to other places to earn and at the same time find easy-to-do crime and get away easily. Many of them have fake identities too. The issue is very much linked to the migration of Biharis, particularly in metropolitan cities like Delhi.”
PREDATORS OF THE POOR
Last week, as the five-year-old victim in Delhi battled for life in hospital—a surreal site of a medley of TV vans, reporters and protesters challenging the police—another five-year-old was among two minor girls raped in Uttar Pradesh. A 22-year-old man in Leharpur, Sitapur district, allegedly raped a 14-year-old Dalit girl. In Deoria district, a 15-year-old in Bhatparani area reportedly violated a five-year-old girl. In Pratapgarh, a madrassa teacher kept a 15-year-old boy captive and raped him over two days. Another teacher was arrested for raping an 11-year-old. Early last week, in Siddharthanagar, passersby found a minor girl dumped after being raped by two young men in Aligarh for three days.
The rape and murder of three sisters aged 11, 9 and 5 came to light when their bodies were found thrown in a well near Lakhni village in Maharashtra. A stranger who offered them food lured the girls—children of an impoverished single mother who worked as a domestic servant—to their watery grave. Vidya Reddy from Tulir, a Chennai-based Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, believes the system is ignoring the emerging patterns of crime and the context of crime in sexual predators. She says, “We have not been able to fix the fundamental flaws. Six years after the Nithari case, there is no simple, timely, affective and appropriate response to the problem of child sexual offenders. Manoj Kumar, one of the accused in the rape of the five-year-old in Delhi, had shifted four times in three years. The extent of his crime says he may have a history of committing sexual offences. There could be a pattern of sexual crime emerging at the locales he was living in. He might have been in the middle of a crime run when he committed the heinous rape. Did the police try to follow it? No.”
A Ministry of Women and Child Development study states that children on the street, at work and in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual assault. The study also says that 50 per cent of abusers were known to the child or are in a position of trust and responsibility, and most children had not reported the matter to anyone. There were no specific laws in India on child abuse till the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed in Parliament in May last year. “We deal with cases of incest on a daily basis and it boggles me why a father or brother or a cousin would go to such an extent,” despairs Minakshi Ganguly, co-director, HAQ Centre for Child Rights. CHILDLINE’S Nitish Kumar believes that the Act is one of the most significant legislations in India. However, the critical aspects under it are yet to be implemented. He says, “Unfortunately none of the three critical things the law has mandated-setting up of special courts for cases of CSA, publicising the law and training all stakeholders for the law-have been implemented by any state government. The state governments have to get their act together under this law. In 2012, we had approximately 12,000 cases of abuse of which 10 per cent were CSA cases.”
RAPESCAPE OF HORROR
According to a 2009 study, in America and Asia, the percentage of child sexual abuse in the world was 10.1 per cent and 23.9 per cent. Approximately 15 per cent to 25 per cent of women and 5 per cent to 15 per cent of men were sexually abused as children, says another research. The predators mostly were acquainted with their victims; around 30 per cent are relatives—brothers, fathers, uncles or cousins. Around 60 per cent are family friends—babysitters, neighbours and friends of parents or siblings. Ten per cent of child rapists were strangers. Men are the worst offenders but women are responsible for 14 per cent to 40 per cent of offences reported against boys and 6 per cent against girls. Strangely, the US is one of the two countries that have not signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the international treaty that legally obliges states to protect children’s rights that includes prosecution against coercing a child to perform sexual activity, child prostitution, and the exploitation of children for pornography. Studies report that most child rapists can be clinically classified as paedophiles while some—like Manoj Kumar and Pradeep Kumar, the accused in five-year-old Delhi girl’s rape—do not meet the clinical diagnosis standards for paedophilia. Arti Raghuvanshi, clinical psychologist, says, “There is access to sexually stimulating information all over the Net but no effort is made in educating the individuals on what information to make use of and what to dispose. They are poor at differentiating between a sexual fantasy world and the real world. All kind of extremes are shown in a blue film but one should be able to understand that it cannot be replicated in real life—absolutely not without consent.”
The insensitivity of the police on rape has come under attack too often, as highlighted by their use of water cannons against the Delhi rape protesters and the offer of Rs 2,000 by cops to the five-year-old girl’s parents to hush up the case. The police come under fire for being particularly hard on the poor. Last week, tormented by the cops, kin of a Dalit rape victim committed suicide in Haryana. A 38-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter died after consuming poison while her husband and two minor sons are still in a critical condition in Bheri Akbarpur in Uklana village near Hisar.
They were allegedly tormented by the police over the whereabouts of their daughter who is missing after filing a report of rape. Ganguly of HAQ Centre for Child Rights says that there is no fear of prosecution. “If our ministers and their sons can get away with rape, why cannot the common man?” There are instances where cops have turned to sex crimes. In 2005, Mumbai constable Sunil Atmaram raped a teenager after threatening her on Marine Drive.
Then, even senior cops dismiss the influence of porn in rape. K S Balasubramanian, Director General of Police, Kerala, denies that the Internet porn has any connection with the rise in rape incidents. “It might be true that pornography might have increased through the Internet but rape incidents have no connections with it,” he says. Psychologist Dr Prerna Kohli disagrees. “Pornography increases urges most definitely. I had this boy who came to me when he was really young. While he was playing video games, he stumbled upon sex toys. One thing led to another and he was exposed to the dark world of pornography instantaneously. He is much older now but he has never been normal ever since. He would go to the bathroom and wear his mother’s lingerie, get attracted to anything sexual easily and eventually became a sex addict. He was really young when this happened but it changed his life. Therefore, I completely support regulation of porn wholeheartedly. It gives an impetus to a certain kind of depraved psychology.”
As we go to print, the life of a four-year-old girl raped by a young man in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh, is hanging by a thread in a Nagpur hospital. NCRB statistics show that the highest incidence of child rape is in Madhya Pradesh with 9,465 cases reported in 2011. Child rape cases in Maharashtra increased from 612 in 2009 to 747 in 2010 and 818 in 2011. Only 49 of the 797 arrested were convicted in 2009; 55 of the 936 arrested in 2010; and only 61 of the 1,053 arrested for child rape were convicted in 2011. A bizarre confession made by a senior Maharashtra cop revealed that teams had been sent to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi—states where securing convictions in child rape cases were better to study how investigation and filing of chargesheets were done. It was a futile exercise since the measures were not implemented in Maharashtra.
Additional Director General of Police, Odisha Crime Branch, Bijay Kumar Sharma, says that the existing legislation against rape and child pornography is stringent but there should be more sensitisation about the legal provisions, and investigating officers should be intensively trained so as to secure more conviction. “Only exemplary convictions, say by fast track courts, will send the right message to the offenders,” says Sharma.
But it’s not just the police who are to blame. Though Dr Achal Bhagat, senior psychiatrist and psychotherapist, says that over 30 per cent of kids report sexual abuse, but most parents are afraid of social stigma attached to rape.
Every incident of rape in the country takes Pascallia back in time when she was a 15-year-old girl, raped by a neighbourhood bangle vendor who broke her ribs. She finally talked to her parents. The father thought his daughter had lost her senses. Instead of taking her to a doctor, she was first taken to a tantric. Later, when she was taken to a nearby hospital, they discovered the broken rib and she was immediately transferred to the city for surgery. The 32-year-old, a domestic help, is away from her family with whom she has severed all connections. The bigger loss is a loss of trust. “I don’t see myself getting married. I would never adopt a girl child. What for? Can I constantly and regularly monitor her moves? Is that even right? I have barely been able to protect myself, let alone protecting another human being.”
It’s not just working in a big city like Delhi, full of immigrants, that is scary. Even a cent per cent literate state like Kerala has recorded an increase in child rape in 2012. A total of 455 children below the age of 16 were raped. In 2011 the figure was 423.
According to the police, 70 per cent of rape victims are girls. NCRB data provides a disturbing picture of child rape in Odisha. The numbers have jumped almost 10 times in last 10 years—from 17 in 2001 to 165 in 2011. A deeper analysis of statistics available with the Odisha Police shockingly reveals that minor rape constitutes a quarter of the total rape incidents in the state. Of the 1,112 rape cases reported in 2011, 266 were minor rape cases. In 2012, the state reported 355 rapes against minors compared to a total rape incidence of 1,458—about 24 per cent of the total. While incidence of rape has risen by over 31 per cent, incidence of rape of minors has risen proportionately, if not higher.
According to Parida of FACE, every day two to three children are subjected to sexual abuse or assault in Odisha. “Our ongoing study in the state says that there were at least 2,071 cases of sexual abuse and assault against children that happened between 2010 and 2012. In January and February (2013) alone, 115 cases have been reported,” he says.
Perversion can take vengeful form, too, as in the case of a young girl found unconscious by the roadside in Tirur in Kerala’s Malappuram district on the morning of March 5 this year. There were ants crawling all over her body. The accused, Mohammed Jasim, told the police he committed the crime to take revenge on the girl’s mother for refusing to have a sexual relationship with him.
Prerna Kohli, a Gurgaon-based psychologist, has suggestions for the future. “The preventive measures are simple if we try and acquaint ourselves with them,” she says. Her first solution is education: “Educating our girls and boys is the first step. In most cases of such heinous crimes, you will notice that the perpetrator is an illiterate who is completely disempowered. People who are disempowered will act in a certain damaging way. For them, raping an older women or a young baby is all the same.” She adds, “I was recently handling the case of this girl who was abused at the age of six at the hands of a known relative. It was only when she grew up that she could make sense of what had happened. I encouraged her to face her demons and address the issue by talking to that man who was still known to her (now married with children). So one day, in a crowded party, she made her way to him and talked to him, telling him what he had done was unacceptable. She felt much better.”
At present, there is little to make us feel better. Like in the West, paedophiles are neither registered in the neighbourhood nor their identity posted on the Net by the government. In the grim fairy tale that is the legacy our children have received from post-liberalisation exposure to pornography, job migration, working parents and unmonitored educational and social environment, the monsters that stalk the defenceless young are the greatest threat of all. Because they affect the future of an entire generation across time.
With inputs from Ajay Kumar, Deepshikha Punj, Siba Mohanty, Santhosh Christy and Payal Ganguly
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was passed by Parliament in May last year and was notified by the government in November same year. The law, which defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years, aims to strengthen the legal provisions for the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation. However, considering the heinous nature of rapes committed in recent times, clamour for harsher punishment for rapists has grown louder.
Punishments for offences covered in the Act are:
■ Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 3): Not less than seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 4)
■ Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 5): Not less than 10 years which may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 6)
■ Sexual Assault (Section 7): Not less than three years which may extend to five years, and fine (Section 8)
■ Aggravated Sexual Assault (Section 9): Not less than five years which may extend to seven years and fine (Section 10)
■ Sexual Harassment of the Child (Section 11): Three years and fine (Section 12)
■ Use of Child for Pornographic Purposes (Section 13): Five years and fine and in the event of subsequent conviction, seven years and fine (Section 14 (1))
The Act provides for the establishment of special courts for trial of offences under the Act. The Act incorporates child-friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights have been made the designated authority to monitor the implementation of the Act.
Help Your Child
■ Listen to everything your child has to say. He/she may reveal something chilling.
■ In case you sense something alarming in her/his innocent talk, probe the matter in a friendly way.
■ Reach out to a counsellor. Don’t make counselling a stigma/taboo.
■ Don’t be insensitive to your child in case he discloses a family member’s/neighbour’s/friend’s name.
■ Don’t leave the child alone at home with a help or a family member if you notice a change in his/her behaviour.
■ Survey the school and day care premises, and be familiar with the risk areas.
■ Help the child differentiate between a safe and an unsafe touch.
■ Tell the child that a touch on the private parts outside a cleaning routine or a doctor’s examination is NOT NORMAL.
■ Urge his/her school to be part of your child’s education on sexual abuse.
■ Don’t cover up. You may emotionally stifle your child for life.
Scars From The Past
Children who have been abused show an abnormal interest in knowing about sex and even act out sexual behaviour. Many kids become withdrawn. They may exhibit cruelty to animals, show unreasonably defiant behaviour and can even harm themselves physically. Many become drugs dependent and alcoholics in their adolescence, says a study by US’s National Institute of Drug Abuse. Studies say that 51 per cent to 79 per cent of sexually-abused children are affected by greater psychological problems if a relative has victimised them. Children abused from an early stage show dissociation and post-traumatic stress disorder—that produces amnesia about the abuse. Dr Neena Gulabani, Healing Consultant, Sahheal, says, “A mother recently found a rolled-up dry leaf inserted in her seven-year-old boy’s anus. She got to know about it only when he complained of pain. The incident is going to leave a mental and emotional scar for long. Some people who have undergone child sexual abuse don’t even let a doctor examine them. As they are manipulated and controlled by someone sexually, they become silent containers of pent-up anger. Pornographic material becomes a quick-pick among these kids. Counselling and parental comfort help.”