NEW DELHI: The first national level consultative meet on choking demand for commercial sexual exploitation of children recognized the low policy priority accorded to the issue and resolved to create an inter-ministerial framework to ensure better and effective implementation of policy pronouncements on the ground.
The national level consultative meet is a first of its kind initiative that attempted to bring key stakeholders within and outside the government on one platform to deliberate a way out of the current environment of lack of enforcement teeth which has led to a proliferation of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The meet, which deliberated on various strands of the issue, has firmed up a national action plan with the child at the centre of its focus.
Proposed to be helmed by the Prime Minister’s Office, this will be a network which would bind inter-governmental departments such as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Women and Child Development (WCD) closely with different government agencies such as the CBI and the like working in close conjunction with one another.
With choking demand for children in commercial sexual exploitation at its core, this framework is expected to result in prioritization of the issue in terms of the discourse at the national and at the level of the central and state governments.
“This is not just a WCD issue. WCD can and should take the initiative but the need of the hour is to create an inter-ministerial framework to take this forward,” opined Mr. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Honourable Member of Parliament.
Mr. Chandrasekhar, who chaired the meeting, also articulated an important view that technology can play the role of an enabler in sharing intelligence and data when it comes to not just commercial sexual exploitation of children but also in other child related crimes.
“We already have a Nat grid which really enables information sharing on terror-related issues. Why can’t we have a child grid replicated on similar lines which will ensure inter agency coordination and intelligence sharing something which will lend to better enforcement”, remarked the Member of Parliament.”
Inadequate data was a key element on which there was complete consensus that poor and insufficient crime records plague this sector. The problem, many speakers said was compounded because the official data is itself under-reported due to issues such as stigmatization, fear, police apathy and the like.
It was mooted that better information coordination systems on a digital platform be set up and maintained while at the SHO level, there should be consistent data available on ‘history sheeters’- an imperative given the fact that repeat offenders mostly operate with impunity here.
A key theme that resonated throughout the conference was that there was no paucity of laws as far as Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children are concerned. However, lack of awareness and sensitization to the issue as also inadequate enforcement and deterrence seemed to be plaguing resolution or at least mitigation in this area.
This was an area which was also heavily debated and Mr. Dilip Kumar, Joint Secretary of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs weighed in to say that enforcement capacities are stretched with the police and most of India’s investigative agencies and though ‘’the typical response is to hold the police and the MHA to book, yet capacity building, especially at the grass roots level and greater sensitization are the needs of the hour’’.
Ms. Chhaya Sharma, DIG, NHRC (National Human Rights Commission), elaborated on the above and explained the systemic and operational lacunae that police officers grapple with everyday which include lack of funds for rehabilitation of victims, lack of incentives and morale which constrain effective police operations in this area.
Another key issue that was deliberated at length at the meeting was the role of the judiciary. Mr. Chetan Sanghi, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development mentioned that it’s important that Children's’ courts fast track cases of this nature to serve as better judicial deterrence.
“Deterrence continues to be important, there is a need for special courts and these courts should fast track child related cases’’, he opined.
Mr. Sanghi also re-emphasised that there needs to be an adequate focus on choking the demand side of this menace as well as victim reintegration- elements which will be integral to the new policy architecture that is being put in place by his Ministry.
This view was also echoed by Ms. Jyotika Kalra, Member, NHRC in her closing remarks. Ms. Kalra called for enhanced centre-state and agency to agency coordination for better results on the ground. She also opined that policy actions by central and state level authorities need to be backed by high-visibility media campaigns to create and sustain awareness of the issue and elevate the theme to the centre of national discourse. This, in turn, will prompt policy makers to elevate the issue to the status of a national public policy priority.