Horrific crimes

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Horrifying stories of sexual abuse of minor girls have been tumbling out of the cupboard one after the other in recent times, first allegedly by a priest from Kerala and then accusations against Bihar officials and a minister’s husband for sexual exploitation of 34 girls in a Muzaffarnagar shelter home run by a non-government organization (NGO). The cases are shocking and underpin the need for corrective measures that include both legal and social recourse. Formal complaints have been registered in all these, mostly after some delay. But this is too little a response to deal with a problem that is of alarming magnitude and is of utmost seriousness. Crimes against children registered a quantum jump of 180 percent between 2012 and 2016, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Cases related particularly to child sexual abuse showed a shocking increase of 142 percent between 2015 and 2016. Last week, taking a grim view of the over-all sexual abuse with NCRB figures revealing that a girl or woman is raped every six hours, the Supreme Court of the country was forced to express its anguish: “What is happening in this country?” These figures may just be the tip of the ice-berg as they simply include the reported cases, which might only be a fraction of the deeply rampant sexual abuse particularly of minor girls, even boys. The spurt in figures simply reflects that these cases are now being reported more frequently than the past. It would be erroneous to believe that sexual abuse is increasing because of increasing criminality in the society. Sexual abuse is more deeply connected to patriarchal attitudes than criminality. Poor understanding of rapes and sexual violence contributes to its growth and inadequate action further limits and hampers the fight against this gross injustice. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act which came up in 2012 may sound impressive but not the conviction rate of less than 30 percent ever since the act came up. The recent ordinance of imposing death penalty on those convicted of sexual abuse against minors along with all the other related laws, have hardly proved to be a deterrent. In April this year, 9 people were held guilty of sexual exploitation of inmates of an orphanage in Haryana, a case that was brought to light in 2012 and was quite similar in nature to the present Bihar case of ‘horror home’. These cases simply prove the rampant existence of sexual abuse and the inadequacy of legal justice mechanisms. Laws alone are not enough to deal with the issue, particularly when the conviction is rare. The problem is that whenever such cases are highlighted, the normal tendency of the government, civil society and media is to deflect focus from the issue by infusing it with sensationalism and politicking. In response to the recent cases of orphanages, the response of union women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, who till date has only voiced her concern over sexual abuse selectively, suggested doing away with NGO run homes and centralizing the orphanages under central and state governments. When the problem lies in the inability of the system to function, inspect such homes on a routine basis or investigate allegations emerging on time, it is unfair to pass sweeping remarks against all NGO run facilities. By this logic then, if schools are becoming places where minors are sexually exploited, as is the case that was reported in some part of the country, then they should all be shut down or centralized under the high command of the governments. The answer does not lie in clamping down on institutions but in making systems effective enough to make every public and private institution accountable. The entire system of legal justice needs an overhaul, starting from the police stations, where lethargy and contempt for gender issues forbids prompt action, and the medical examination, which rarely takes place scientifically. Besides, over all system of education and awareness programmes need to go beyond the stereo-type slogans of ‘beti-padhao, beti bachao’ to actually focusing on the equal relationship between man and woman, boy and girl.