Are children becoming easy targets for sexual predators in this country? The events of the last week certainly seem to suggest so. A five-year-old girl raped in the national capital, a six-year-old girl raped in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, a seven-year-old Dalit girl raped by her neighbour in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, three minors allegedly raped in Mumbai while being trafficked and a five-year-old-rape victim from Seoni in Madhya Pradesh is battling for her life in a Nagpur Hospital after being flown there in a critical condition. These crimes pointing to the fact that sexual crimes, especially against children are on the rise.
A report by the Asian Centre for Human Rights states there has been a 336 per cent increase of child rape cases from 2001 to 2011, a period in which 48,338 child rape cases were recorded. Data from Childline, an NGO that deals with crimes against children shows that child sexual abuse has gone up from 3.74 per cent in 2010 to 12 per cent in 2012. Nishit Kumar, Head of Communication & Strategic Initiatives at Childline India Foundation says, "At this point of time the reality is that child sexual abuse is on a very steep increase. We intervene in about 10,000 to 12,000 cases of abuse every year and roughly ten to 12 % of the cases we intervene are child sexual abuse."
So what is leading to children becoming easy targets? Dr Harish Shetty, well-known psychiatrist who has worked with children for a long time says one of the main reasons in the 'disconnection syndrome'. He says "What we are experiencing in our country is a disconnection syndrome. Globalisation has disconnected individuals from others from families between communities. So in this disconnection there is a lot of anonymity and predators like pedophiliacs find children to be very vulnerable."
But what is more alarming is that in many cases the offender is known to the victim. Dr. Shetty adds "I have seen at least in a day at least five patients coming and telling me that they have experienced child sexual abuse. Most of the people who abuse children are inside the family or very close to the family or teachers, doctors, neighbours, bus drivers, liftmen and those who are close to the child. Unfortunately in India, we tell children all the time to respect elders which is not right. We need to tell children to respect the behaviour of elders and come back and tell us, tell the family if anybody has touched them inappropriately at the wrong places."
Family members and relatives together account for nearly 55 per cent of all abuse cases that Childline has intervened in. Many cases are hushed up but Dr Shetty points out that many people are also coming out and reporting cases especially after the gang-rape of a medical student in Delhi last December and the outrage across the country.
As cases of child rape and abuse go up the demand for stricter punishment against especially those who rape minors, is also increasing. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj says "Those who rape minors must get the death penalty. Death penalty is a must for barbaric rapes." Actor and BJP leader Smriti Irani says, "It is high time that we declared that those who rape minors will be given the death penalty."