COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns have resulted in an increase in the number of child abuse cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Data obtained from the District Child Welfare Committee (CWC) show a 36.5% increase in the number of POCSO cases registered in the first seven months of 2021 when compared with the cases recorded in the whole of last year.
CWC member-cum-bench magistrate L. Shanmugam said the increase might be due to two reasons: firstly, children were spending a lot of time in their homes and were exposed to sexual abuse by friends, neighbours or relatives; and secondly, their increased usage of mobile phones leading to harassment through or using social media.
“In the last six months, there have been several POCSO cases in which children aged under 18 were exposed to sexual abuse or harassment via the social media. Children, particularly girls, are targeted in such crimes,” said Mr. Shanmugam.
Another member, B. Pandiaraja, said girls who felt alone started interacting with strangers without knowing their bad intentions, met them and got abused. At a time when crimes against children were increasing, it had also been difficult to keep children glued to online classes throughout the day.
Child Rights activist C. Jim Jesudoss is of the opinion that the pandemic has exposed children to the adult world and its complexities.
“The vulnerability of children to such crimes has definitely increased in this period. If both parents are employed, children are left alone to take care of themselves. Deeper studies can be done to see if the pandemic has resulted in more sexual abuse cases against children,” he added.
Better awareness among the people and consequent reporting of more cases might be another reason for the increase in POCSO cases, he added.
Apart from POCSO Act crimes, child victims of abandonment, trafficking, prostitution, child labour, child marriage and drug abuse are brought to the CWC.