In a span of two weeks, two children have died in Kerala after suffering torture at the hands of people who were expected to protect them. Soon after the Thodupuza case, in which a seven-year-old boy was so brutally assaulted by his widowed mother’s live-in partner that his skull cracked open, comes the Eloor incident where a three-year-old was tortured by his own mother, who inflicted burns on him to make him behave. Another child, a three-year-old girl, abused by family members for being a “curse”, is in the hospital.
While these are recent examples, Kerala is seeing a disturbing rise in cases of crimes against children—with the number of incidents reported per year going up from 549 in 2008 to 4,008 in 2018. For every case registered, there are many that go unreported. There were 1,204 cases of rape in 2018 alone, and 3,179 cases were registered under the POCSO Act. While the numbers are disturbing enough, what is more shocking is the frequency with which serious incidents of domestic violence against children are being reported in the state. Cases of violence against children by family members, relatives and people known to them mostly go unreported because Indian society still believes in the culture of punishing children, often through violence, to make them better. While the stringent POCSO Act deals with sexual offences, there is a dangerous dearth of legal provisions to protect kids from abusive parents, relatives and others.
After a series of such cases, the Kerala government in 2013 decided to set up neighbourhood vigilance teams to protect children and report abuse. But that does not seem to have worked. It’s a matter of concern and shame that Kerala, that takes pride in its socio-economic progress, can’t ensure the protection of its children. The state and society must come up with proactive measures to ensure a safe childhood. The government must also ensure strict enforcement of laws and speedy punishment, besides raising awareness on children’s rights. If not, the battered childhoods will haunt the state forever.