Violence against Children – Issues in News

Context

  • The Parliament recently passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2018, which awards death penalty to convicts of child rapes in India.
  • The Bill provides for death penalty as the maximum punishment in cases of rape of a child under 12.

What are the issues with Child Abuse in India?

  • An epidemic of child rape is sweeping the country and the rising number of children who are being targeted is a disturbing scenario.
  • According to a report by child rights NGO CRY, sexual offence is committed against a child in India every 15 minutes and there has been an increase of more than 500 per cent over the past 10 years in crime against minors.
  • As per NCRB statistics on rape of women and children, 94% of the rapists are known to the victim, and almost half the perpetrators include the father, a brother, a grandfather, a close relative, and neighbours.
  • Low conviction rate – it is only about 3 per cent of the total cases brought before courts as per the NCRB Report 2016. One of the main causes for the low rate of conviction under the Act is a lack of infrastructure and manpower in the criminal justice system.
  • Failure of previous acts – Despite the enactment of the POCSO Act in 2012, there has been no decline in the number of crimes against children. Inference – The new law was no deterrent.
  • Delay in justice – It is common for court cases to last years or even decades- one of the reasons is the serious shortage of judges. More than 6 million criminal cases that have been pending for more than 10 years. Timelines for completion of the investigation, for recording of evidence, and for completion of trial are almost never adhered to due to pendency of cases and the lack of facilities.

World’s Oldest Civil Case (An example of judicial delay)
  • The world’s oldest civil case is about a piece of land in Doshipura, Varanasi.
  • Litigation started in 1878, when India was under the British rule and Lord Lytton was its governor-general.
  • This case is still pending.

 

  • Politicians’ attitude – Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav went on record in 2014 to say that crimes like rapes shouldn’t lead to death sentence because “boys are boys and they make mistakes”.
  • In a 2017 report, “Everyone Blames Me,” Human Rights Watch found that survivors (of the crime), particularly among marginalized communities, still find it difficult to register police complaints.
  • They often suffer humiliation at police stations and hospitals, are still subjected to degrading tests by medical professionals, and feel intimidated and scared when the case reaches the courts. They face significant barriers when trying to obtain critical support services such as health care, counseling, and legal aid.

Some incidents of child rape

  • The brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year old girl Asifa Bano, who belonged to a Muslim nomadic tribe on 17 January near Kathua, a town in Kashmir shook the collective conscience of the nation and sparked outrage and anger across India.
  • In the Nagaon district of Assam, an 11-year-old girl was raped and then burnt alive, and then an entire village came together to help the police catch the accused.
  • It gets more disgusting. A four-month-old baby was raped and murdered in the historic Rajwada area of Indore. Hardened policemen were nearly moved to tears as they conducted a preliminary examination of the ravaged body and carried it away in a little bundle.
  • Seventeen men have been charged in India with the gang-rape of an 11-year-old deaf girl in the city of Chennai in July 2018.

Salient features of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2018

  • The Bill seeks to replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated on April 21, 2018 following an outcry over the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and the rape of another woman at Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2018 will amend relevant Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and also the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012.
  • The Bill provides for a time-bound investigation in cases of rape of girl children. The investigation into the rape of a child must be completed within two months.
  • The cases are to be tried in a fast track court. The Bill states that any appeal against a sentence by the trial court must be disposed of within six months.

Punishments
  • Under the new law, if the victim is under 12 years of age, the culprit faces a minimum sentence of 20 years. The maximum punishment is death.  In the cases of gangrape of a child under 12, the minimum punishment is life sentence while the maximum is death penalty.
  • In cases of children aged between 12 and 16, the offence of rape is punishable with the minimum sentence of 20 years. The maximum punishment in such cases is life imprisonment. If a girl aged between 12 and 16 is gangraped, the convicts face a minimum punishment of life sentence.
  • If the victim is aged between 16 and 18, the offence of rape is punishable with a minimum punishment of 10-year jail term and the maximum is life imprisonment. Repeat offenders will be punished with life imprisonment or death.
  • However, the punishment for rape of boys has remained unchanged. This has resulted in greater difference in the quantum of punishment for rape of minor boys and girls.

Demerits of the Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is a debatable subject and criminologists, sociologists and the legal fraternity are always divided on this issue.

  • Justice P Bhagwati while delivering a dissenting opinion in the case of Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1982) case held capital punishment to be unconstitutional.
  • The Law Commission of India in its report on death penalty said that after many years of research and debate a view has emerged that there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty has a deterrent effect over and above its alternative – life imprisonment.
  • The Justice JS Verma committee, which was formed after the December 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case, in its report concluded that death penalty would be a regressive step in the field of sentencing and reformation.
  • Human Rights Watch, of course, opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases. Capital punishment for rape is the easiest and most convenient demand to raise, yet the most harmful one for rape survivors. It is all about retribution, disregards the reformative aspect of the criminal justice system, and, most importantly, is said to have little deterrent effect. 
  • There are rapists who kill the victims, and there are rapists who don’t. Now, if the maximum punishment in either case is the same, the rapist would reason that by killing his victim he may never be exposed. There are numerous instances of the perpetrators killing their victims, so stringent anti-rape laws are perceived not to be deterrents but measures that further instigate rapists to kill the victims.
  • Rape is already underreported in India largely because of social stigma, victim-blaming, poor response by the criminal justice system, and lack of any national victim and witness protection law making them highly vulnerable to pressure from the accused as well as the police. Children are even more vulnerable due to pressure from family and society. Increase in punishment, including the death penalty may lead to a decrease in reporting of such crimes.

Who is working for the victims?

  • RAHI Foundation, established in 1996, is a pioneering organization focused on women survivors of Incest and Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). Its work includes support and recovery through the distinctive RAHI Model of Healing; awareness and education about Incest/ Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA); training and intervention; and research and capacity building – all established within the larger issue of social change.
  • One Stop Crisis Centres or the Nirbhaya Centres: The Justice Verma Committee called for establishing One Stop Crisis Centres to cater sensitively to the immediate medical, legal, and psychological needs of the survivors. The first Nirbhaya centre has come up in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Emergency response and rescue services with linkage with existing mechanisms like 108 emergency service is expected to lead to timely help for victims.
  • Swayam is a feminist organization committed to advancing women’s rights and ending discrimination and violence against women and girls, based in Kolkata. It was registered as a public charitable trust in 1995. The organisation has handled several high profile rape cases that shocked the nation.
  • Jan Sahas Social Development Society runs a program to help rape survivors and their family. It is based in rural Madhya Pradesh and helps survivors at the police station, hospital and court, besides providing them shelter, counselling and legal aid. The initiative also advocates effective implementation of the law and creates awareness in society about rape and sexual assault.
  • Society for Nutrition, Education & Health Action (SNEHA), Mumbai is a non-profit organisation that works with women, children and public health and safety systems. It helps women and girls facing domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual harassment, and children facing sexual abuse.

Way Forward

  • The Indian government has, in recent years, adopted significant legal reforms for sexual violence cases but major gaps remain in their implementation.
  • It is the certainty and uniformity of the punishment, rather than the nature of it, which actually deters an offender from committing a crime.
  • Deterrence of the crime and the victim’s access to justice require both better implementation of existing laws and systemic changes.
  • Many Indians – men and women – refuse to believe that sexual violence is a serious problem eating away at India’s vitals. It is essential to recognise that the crisis lies in the precise manner in which the existing criminal justice system unfolds.
  • India’s growing rape culture can be best reversed by enhancing conviction rates through reforms in the police and judicial systems, and by augmenting measures to rehabilitate and empower rape survivors.
  • Criminal justice system remains vulnerable to political pressures and allows many of the accused to go scot-free.
  • The re-training of police officers dealing with various aspects of sexual crimes.
  • Strict action is taken against the police officer found guilty of obstructing the probe or colluding with perpetrators of such cases.

The court infrastructure needs to be strengthened, and the police must be sensitized to handle and support victims of the crime. This will ensure better investigations which in turn will translate into a better conviction rate of the offenders. Greater allocation of state resources towards the setting up of fast-track courts; more one-stop crisis centres; proper witness protection; more expansive compensation for rape survivors, and an overhaul of existing child protection services is the need of the hour.

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