Laws to protect children from abuse or exploitation seem to have turned futile in India as reflected by an ever increasing number of crimes against children. Over 1.5 lakh children were victimised in 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). There has been an alarming rise in such crimes over the past four-five years with the number of reported cases increasing from 26,694 in 2012 to 1,52,494 in 2015.
This comes as a shocker because there are multiple laws in the country to protect children. Despite laws such as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012, the Women’s and Children’s (Licensing) Act 1956, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, offences against children are increasing. This is because of the lack of proper implementation of the laws.
The NCRB data reveals that out of the total cases, 138,770 (91%) were registered against adults, while 13,724 were registered against juveniles. The major offences registered included 78,081 counts of trafficking, 35,145 counts of rape, 67,224 counts of soliciting, 3,674 cases of forced pornography, 6,029 counts of murder, 17,994 counts of attempt to murder, 62,185 forced child labour. Majority of the cases were reported from Tamil Nadu (18.67%), Punjab (16.4%) and West Bengal (13.92%). Delhi also had a high share with 6.5% crimes committed in the national capital.
Indian law defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years. “The situation becomes worrying when even children are the victims of heinous crimes. Whether rich or poor, whether from cities or villages, children are being abused, tortured, trafficked, raped and murdered every day. They are the victims when we remain ignorant. We all are guilty. We are aware, but we have chosen to stay oblivious to the situation,” Sonia Kapur, a social activist from Save the Children, told The Sunday Guardian.
“Trafficking is a big evil. We have rescued thousands of minor victims from brothels and factories. Most of the trafficked children are brought from small towns or villages by their relatives and then sold to brothels. Crimes cut across genders also. Boys and girls are both subject to similar harassment. Some children with highly impressionable minds are taught ways to commit crimes,” Sonia said.
“Efforts of the government are not enough. I don’t see any fear of punishment in the eyes of the criminals. Our research shows 53% men and 76% women in India were physically or sexually abused as children. So, this is not something new but has always been neglected. We also found that in over 80% of the cases, the culprit is known to the victim and is usually a relative. People do not pay heed to complaints from their children and many cases go unreported. The other side of the coin can be that 1.5 lakh cases were reported. People are not ignoring such crimes. But millions of kids are victimised every day. It is a fact,” she added.
NCRB officials say that reporting of crimes has increased across the country, barring a few states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana where the increase is negligible.
Officials say that a greater number of crimes are carried out in these states, but not all of them are reported.
“More and more cases have been registered. Trafficking and exploitation are the biggest issues. It is a big racket which has its roots deeply embedded in the system. According to the feedback we receive from officials on the ground, the situation is worsening. But corrective measures are being taken. Several crimes go unreported or unregistered due to a number of different reasons. The government is carrying out sensitisation and awareness drives across the country. It will soon start to show results,” a senior official in the NCRB said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) says that the priority for them is the prevention of crime.
“There is a public outcry over juveniles committing crimes. That is a serious concern as well. But the issue of crime against children is equally important, if not more. It needs to be tackled with conviction by the police and the government. I believe that both have performed their duties diligently. There is more work that needs to be done, but we are constantly pushing to stop such crimes,” Jaideep Lakra, Joint Secretary with the MHA, told this newspaper.