Guwahati: At a time there is nationwide outrage over a spate of rape cases, Assam has seen a spurt in cases of sexual assault against minors. At least 20 cases have been registered across the state in the past two months.
In the latest incident, a seven-year-old was allegedly raped by her neighbour in Upper Assam's Tinsukia district. Finding the girl alone at home while her parents, both daily labourers, were away, the 55-year-old accused lured her to his house and raped her, said police sources. The accused has now been sent to jail for 14 days.
Four days ago, an eight-year-old girl from the same area was alleged molested. The 22-year-old accused has been arrested.
Last month, an 11-year-old was raped and burnt alive in Nagaon district of central Assam, an incident that led to street protests across the state.
The rise in the number of assaults against minors has surprised activists.
"This is absolutely shocking. In the last two months, we have documented at least 20 cases of sexual assault on children. There's a rise, the reasons are varied but the huge economic and social disparity in Assam is a major factor," said Miguel Das Queah, a child rights activist from Guwahati.
Mr Queah and his team run the state's only centre that tracks cases registered under the Prevention of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
"Our recent observation is that despite so much work on the awareness front, nothing much has changed," said Purabi, a volunteer working for child rights.
The Bengaluru-based National Law School of India University (NLSIU) that studied 172 cases of sexual assault against children registered between 2014 and 2016 in Assam said that the accused were convicted in only 42 cases.
The study also revealed that in 78 per cent of those cases, the accused were known to the children.
The Assam child rights commission says it is surprised with the disturbing rise in the sexual crimes against children.
"Last year, the commission intervened in 18 cases in the whole year but this year, in just four months, we have intervened in 18 cases. The situation is of real concern," said Sunita Changkakati, Chairperson, Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.