'Crimes against children: Time to break conspiracy of silence'

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) A three-year-old boy was kicked and assaulted by her tutor in Kolkata, a six-year-old girl was raped by her skating teacher in Bangalore, blind children were caned in Hyderabad while from Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, there have been many reports of child molestation, rape and murder .

Outrage against such incidents has united members of various communities and organisations, besides raising pertinent questions on child safety. The incidents also highlight the rise in the cases of sexual abuse. According to the National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB), crimes against children went up by 52.5 percent in a year across India. A total of 58,224 cases were registered in 2013 compared to 38,172 cases in 2012.

Among India's 53 mega-cities, Delhi is the most unsafe for children as crimes against them have reportedly gone up exponentially across the country. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 9,857 cases while Maharashtra was on the second with 8,247 cases.

While most crimes are against children of vulnerable communities, middle class children have also been targets in elite schools.

Sociologist Saswati Ghosh said: "Children have always been vulnerable but now they are being targeted more because community bonding is not as strong today.

"We can also see political parties justifying such acts in states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The perpetrators are taking shelter with the ruling party," Ghosh told IANS.

She was referring to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav who, when asked about the incident, had snapped at a woman reporter and said: "You are safe... so why rake up the question?" And, in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has glossed over incidents where perpetrators have been from her ruling Trinamool Congress.

The horrifying spectacle of the two teenaged cousins hanging from a tree after being raped was condemned by no less than UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. Even as the Badaun rape incident was being talked about the body of a seven-year-old girl was found hanging from a neem tree at Rajnagar village in West Bengal's East Midnapore district July 24.

"Authorities need to do much more to protect children," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW),.

She said there need not have to be public protests for the authorities to "vigorously enforce the new children protection law, and to promptly investigate and prosecute people accused of sexually abusing children." In Bangalore, public protests forced police to catch the perpetrators of the crime.

Additional Commissioner of Police S.B.S. Tyagi said: "The main reason for such crime (against children) is that children cannot differentiate between a 'friendly touch' and a 'non-friendly touch'," adding that parents need to be more careful who they let their children out with.

Lawyer Rebecca John said that women and especially children are victims of violence as they are most vulnerable. "Children are easy targets as they cannot fight back and until they realise what has happened it becomes too late," John told IANS, adding that such incidents are "reflective of the times we live in".

"What is needed is better policing, better investigative skills and vigilant, passionate prosecuting agencies which do effective, time-bound prosecution. It is only then that we can send the right kind of a message to society," she said.

On being asked about the rising number of child abuse cases in India, Kushal Singh, chief of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) refused to accept that such cases have gone up and rationalised by saying that "earlier the issue was hidden in a conspiracy of silence as the people were scared that the children would be stigmatised."

Ganguly however said many cases of sexual abuse of children remain unreported due to institutional barriers that make reporting difficult, or ill-treatment and social stigma in government and community responses.

She said state governments should draw up guidelines for schools and other educational institutions so that such acts of abuse do not happen.

"Child sexual abuse remains a serious problem... If the authorities are serious about protecting the country's children, they should take immediate steps to implement a more effective system to rigorously monitor all government and private children's institutions," Ganguly added.