Friday, February 23, 2024

Different kind of darkness

Once again, concerning crime data has emerged. By default, any report containing crime data in respect of any society or State should provoke concern and alarm. And for a society, there couldn’t be many more concerning and alarming figures than those of sexual offences against their children. These ghastly crimes belong to a different kind of darkness. On December 1, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released its latest pan-India crime data for the year 2022. And even though the Bureau attached a disclaimer that data regarding Nagaland did not undergo the process of filtration or clarification, the provisional figures, nevertheless, could not have been that sharply inaccurate or even wildly misrepresentative. Anyway, per the data collected by NCRB, there were 22 recorded instances of sexual offences against children in Nagaland last year. One of the victims was a boy, the remaining girls. Across the country, these cases are registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (PoCSO) Act. Seven out of the 22 victims were aged between 6 and 12 years (including the boy), 13 were in the age between 12 and 16, and two were aged between 16 and 18. Activists have long underscored a common trait: that in an overwhelmingly majority of such cases, the offenders are acquaintances. Per the NCRB report, in 17 out of the 22 cases, the offenders were known to the victims. There were four instances where the offenders were family members of the victims; nine of the offenders were either family friends/neighbours/employer or other known persons; and three of them were friends/online friends or live-in partners who had abused the victims on pretext of marriage. In only five out of the 22 cases, the offenders were either unknown to the victim or unidentified. First thing first: 22 cases of PoCSO in a single year in Nagaland are 22 cases too many. There exists no ambiguity in this regard. However, it should be acknowledged that such heinous crimes have taken place in our society before too ~ in alarming frequency, it must be said. It needs bearing in mind that a majority of such perpetrations continue to go unreported in our society. Consequently, the perpetrators go unpunished. The 22 PoCSO cases were among the 35 cases of crime against children registered in Nagaland last year. Some of the offences included in the list of crimes against children were murder, infanticide, kidnapping and abduction ~ including for compelling the victim for marriage ~ and rape. There were 38 victims involved. In its previous report, the Bureau had reported a jump in Nagaland’s number of crimes against children as between 2019-21, a total of 141 cases were registered in the State. Now, it should be 176 cases in four years. Also, in December last year, the Centre had informed the Lok Sabha that registrations of cases under PoCSO Act nearly tripled in Nagaland from 2020 to 2021. It increased from 12 registrations in 2019 to 31 in 2021, indicating a spike of 158.33%. Similarly, the number of persons arrested under PoCSO Act also nearly tripled in the same period, increasing from 14 in 2019 to 39 in 2021 ~ a rise by 178.57%. The Union Ministry submitted that while most cases were sent for trials, the conviction rate was very low. With whichever lens we choose to look at the data, these are disturbing numbers. Clearly, the Government and law enforcement authorities need to step up their efforts and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice at the earliest. At the same time, our society needs a deep introspection on why most cases of sexual harassment and assault go unreported. We need to change the narrative and recognise that rape and sexual assault are not just crimes against individuals but are a reflection of society’s mindset. We must, and we do, hold the Government accountable for their lack of action and demand stricter laws to protect our girls and boys from sexual violence. Each and every single girl and boy in our society deserves to grow up without fear.