KOCHI: Snuggled on to her fear on a moth-eaten bed in a dimly lit room in a Nirbhaya shelter home, a 11- year- old ‘nobody’ is waiting. No, not for justice. Justice, if anything, is a cryptic adult joke she hears people whisper in the alien corridors of the home.
Molested by her father, twice, and abandoned by her mother, she is pining for a purpose. Her life is the recurring narrative of the lives of the 600-odd ‘survivors’ who have sought refuge at the 11 Nirbhaya centres across the state in the last three years. With crimes against children showing a steady rise year-on-year, the need to reinforce these centres has become all the more indispensable.
Stats speak volumes: In all, 219 cases of sexual abuse against children were recorded in Kerala till July 2016. A 57 per cent increase in incidents of violence against children were reported in 2015, within a span of two years. If abuse on hapless kids doesn’t whip up your conscience, there’s more- 910 rapes and 2,332 sexual abuse cases against women reported till October 2016. And counting...
“At present, we house around 271 survivors in our centres, of which 90 per cent are minors, the upper age-limit being 15-17, “ says P E Usha, state project director of Mahila Samakhya Society, an NGO running the Nirbhaya Centres under the aegis of the Social Welfare Department. “It’s painful that sexual abuse on minors has been confined to smug references mouthed by lofty news anchors or buried headlines only when a dastardly act is committed.”
The disturbing reality lies somewhere else. “In 90% cases, the children are abandoned by parents. They are scarred for life which makes rehabilitaion all the more challenging. We have laws to prevent violence against women/children, yet slack enforcement has turned it into a paper tiger. The agents of law are so insensitive to the victim’s trauma,” Usha says.
The corollary of such inertia is the mortifying conviction rate of 9 per cent in child abuse cases. Nothing to write home about! Sensitising the judges and cops dealing with such cases is imperative.
Another discomfitting fact is 40 per cent of children at our homes are from the Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribe community who constitute just 12 per cent of the state’s total population.
Compensation for victims is a grey area largely glossed over. “So far, we have received a total compensation of `23 lakh (SC fund included). Worse, interim compensation was received in only two cases. Besides, prevention and prosecution have remained an indelible blot on the state’s record,” she says.
J Sandhya, former Child Rights Commission member and activist says: “Despite having a legion of child-friendly laws, the trauma and stigma faced by victims remain the same.”
The Achilles’ heel is a gross lack of vision and empathy. “There is no holistic and comprehensive approach while dealing with atrocities against children,” she says.
The 79 per cent acquittal rate in such cases bear testimony to this sad truth. “We don’t expect miracles. But, instead of churning out half-baked schemes and tall promises, let’s get down to the brass tacks,” Sandhya says.
The states’ gross disregard towards the victim’s plight is manifest in the way it approaches vital issues relating to child abuse. While the minimum compensation across India is `3 lakh, in Kerala the upper limit is set at `3 lakh. Lack of proper infrastructure to deal with child-related cases also hampers the trial in such cases.