On June 7, a 12-year-old girl was taken away by six men from in front of her parents and was gang-raped because of a row between the family members and the perpetrators over the construction of a drain. On May 30 Aligarh-based two-year old girl was brutally murdered by two men who owed her father a sum of Rs 10,000. Tension in communities led to horrific gang rape and murder of the eight years old girl in Kathua district of Jammu. These are just a few such cases that gained momentum in recent times.

Violence tool of power show

All these cases have a few things in common like children being targeted to take revenge, it is a form of power show and the brutality with which all these crimes have been committed. Despite the fact that the Kathua case and the Unnao case of rape of a teenage girl by a political leader led to the strengthening of the Prevention of Child from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act), cases of extreme violence against children have only increased. The goriness in the way, the girl from Kathua was gang-raped and then had her head smashed by a rock or the Aligarh toddler was beaten up for hours before murder goes on to show how confident the perpetrators are of impunity that fear of crime does not stop them from committing these crimes.

“Violence is using one’s power and then exercising that power to devalue or deny the human rights of the person who the perpetrator thinks is less powerful. Power dynamics play an important role here,” said Prabhat Kumar, Head of Child Protection at Save The Children organisation.

“In cases of brutality with children, it is again linked to power where when the victim resists, the perpetrator’s will to exert more power strengthens. Secondly, there is a culture of impunity where the perpetrator doesn’t fear the law and can commit the crime scot-free. It in a way helps the perpetrators to exercise their power.” He added.

In no way is it factually determined that revenge is the only reason for child abuse as crimes against children also happen due to mental disorders like paedophilia. On June 9, a seven-year-old girl was found in a field in Jalaun, with her ‘salwar’ tied around her neck, fuelling suspicion that she was raped. On June 15, a 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a madrassa teacher in Kanpur. These are just a few of the seven cases of rape and murder of minor girls reported in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in just a month of June after the Aligarh case was reported.

Crime against children increased by 500%

According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) 2016 report, crimes against children in India increased by more than 500% between 2006 and 2016. One of the other key findings of the report was that kidnapping and abduction of children continue to be the biggest crime against children, accounting for more than half of all crimes (48.9 per cent, number of crimes 52,253), as recorded in 2016. The next biggest category of crime against children is rape, amounting to more than 18 per cent of all crimes against children.

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The evolving definition of crime

Criminologist, Rashi Vidyasagar spoke to SheThePeople.TV on an increase in crimes against children and said, “While crime has been happening against women and children for time immemorial but the meaning of crime has changed over time. For example, the age of consent has changed over time from 12 to 16 to now 18 years. In that sense I don’t think crime per se has increased but what we recognize as crime has changed.

Multiple levels of awareness has increased in terms of what is considered a crime but the most significant shift that has happened is that earlier there was no discussion within families about good touch and bad touch or sexual violence because it was considered to be a taboo but today there is a lot of conversation in that direction with a lot of intervention by child rights activists.”

Professor Vijay Raghavan, who teaches at the Centre for Criminology and Justice of Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS), reflected that violence against the vulnerable is always used as a tool to subjugate them further.

There is no denying the fact that in most cases, sexual offenders of children are known to them and it is those cases that rarely ever make it to FIRs or trials unless the violence reaches extremity. It is these cases that need to come out in the open. “This itself proves that there is a power equation that is being dealt with through violence,” said Prof. Raghavan.

Solutions

“One has to look at long-term solutions in terms of changing our overall value system and creating an equal society only then can we bring down the violence of this kind,” he reflected on the solutions.

While crime has been happening against women and children for time immemorial but the meaning of crime has changed over time. For example, the age of consent has changed over time from 12 to 16 to now 18 years. In that sense I don’t think crime per se has increased but what we recognise as crime has changed.

Kumar feels that speedy justice and punitive measures taken in all such cases that get reported of violence against children is the only thing that can deter the crime rate. However, he does not necessarily believe that the death penalty is the answer to extreme sexual violence against children. “The reporting, investigation and prosecution processes have to be quicker and transparent. It also has to be victim-centric. If the investigation is done on time then people gain confidence. If it is said that reporting of crime has increased then the onus is more on law-enforcing agencies. If people are coming forward to report and the police aren’t acting on those complaints then people lose interest and won’t report.”

On death penalty, he says that there is no evidence that the death penalty helps reduce crime even in places where it is a mandate.

Brutality against children is a major epidemic that India is currently dealing with. Unless a case gains political of media mileage, it has become so difficult for people to report injustice. Police apathy is another challenge that damages the issue further. In many of the cases reported in the last few days, a lot of aggrieved people have complained that if only the police had acted on time, they could have saved the situation.

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