Despite legislations, incidence of violence against children and minors is on the rise

Even as public outrage over the rising incidence of violence against women grows, appalling news reports continue pouring in with headlines that read ‘Play school owner’s husband drugs, rapes three-year-old’; ‘Five-year-old sexually abused at school’.

What is common among these is that they report the violation of a minor – whether at home or in school, at the hands of a family member, friend or stranger. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 33,098 cases of crimes against children were reported in 2011, as compared to 26,694 in 2010, showing an increase of 24 per cent.

While extreme forms of abuse are easy to spot, subtle violence often goes unseen and unrecognised. Being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, India has developed many domestic laws to deal with these grievous crimes; however, they do not appear to act as adequate deterrents.

Under Indian law, corporal punishment is banned. The Right to a Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, which mandates the provision of free and compulsory education for all children aged 6-14, prohibits the physical punishment and mental harassment of a child.

Child labour is yet another form of child abuse. There are laws to combat this too, like the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 and The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

When it comes to sexual abuse, these are dealt with under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). There are several problems with the IPC. Most importantly, it makes no distinction between an adult and a child victim. It is essential to make this distinction because children are more impressionable and vulnerable. In many cases of child sexual abuse, the perpetrator is a person who knows the child and is in a position of trust or authority. Therefore, special courts for the trial of such offences are needed, which incorporate child-friendly procedures as well as provisions for relief and rehabilitation.

However, on May 22 last year, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, was passed by the Lok Sabha. The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. These offences have been defined clearly for the first time under a law that also provides for stringent punishments that have been graded according to the gravity of the offence. The punishments range from simple to rigorous imprisonment of varying periods. There is also provision for a fine the quantum of which is decided by the Court. An offence is treated as ‘aggravated’ when committed by a person in a position of trust or authority, such as a member of the security forces or police, a public servant, and so on. It also has provisions for trial in a special court with child friendly procedures as well as for relief and rehabilitation measures.

(Women's Feature Service)

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