A total of 1,28,531 crimes against children were recorded in India last year, implying that an average of 350 such cases were reported each day during the pandemic, according to an NGO's analysis of the NCRB data.
However, when compared with figures from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2019, there has been a drop of 13.3 per cent in the total number of such cases, Child Rights and You (CRY) said in its analysis.
There were 1,48,185 cases of crime against children recorded in 2019 which meant that each day over 400 such crimes are committed in the country.
"Though there is a drop in total number of crimes against children, child marriage has increased 50 per cent and online abuse has increased 400 per cent in one year," the child rights organisation said.
Further analysis of the decadal trend suggests that crimes against children in India have increased steeply by 381 per cent in the last one decade (2010-2020) and over the same time, the number of overall crimes decreased by 2.2 per cent in the country.
"A state-wise analysis shows that Madhya Pradesh (13.2 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (11.8 per cent), Maharashtra (11.1 per cent), West Bengal (7.9 per cent) and Bihar (5.1 per cent) account for nearly half of total crimes against children (49.3 per cent) in India," the organisation said.
Compared to NCRB data 2019, in the list of top five states, West Bengal has replaced Delhi while seeing a sharp increase in cases by more than 63 per cent.
Priti Mahara, Director, Policy Research and Advocacy, CRY, said: "Experiences during humanitarian crises have revealed that issues of child protection tend to get exacerbated. School closures during Covid, mobility restrictions to contain the spread of the pandemic coupled with the economic slowdown disproportionately impacted livelihoods and household economic and food security of marginalised families.
"Therefore, it was highly likely that it contributed to increasing children's vulnerabilities to child labour, child marriage, child trafficking as well as cases of gender-based violence," she said.
According to CRY's analysis of NCRB data, cases under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 saw an increase of nearly 50 per cent from 525 in 2019 to 785 in 2020.
However, the number of cases recorded under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 saw a decline of around 38 per cent from 770 cases in 2019 to 476 cases in 2020.
This is in contrast to the recently released ILO global estimates on child labour 2020 report, which states that there were 16.8 million more children within the age-group of five to 11 years in child labour in 2020 than in 2016, CRY said.
The COVID-19 crisis threatens to further erode global progress against child labour unless urgent mitigation measures are taken and new analysis suggests a further 8.9 million children will be in child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of rising poverty driven by the pandemic, it said.
"Therefore, this decline needs to be seen in the light of reporting and recording of cases before drawing conclusions regarding progress related to addressing child labour in India," it said.
Another important aspect related to child protection during COVID-19 has been the lack of avenues for recreation and socialisation, according to the organisation.
Since there were restrictions on socialising in-person, and teaching shifted online, there was a corresponding rise in time spent by children online, making them vulnerable to online abuse and exploitation, it said.
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