Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Inside Politics
| India | Times of India
Two incidents rocked Delhi’s social conscience last weekend. Two children, a toddler aged all of 2 and half years and another aged 5 were brutally gang raped.
The reactions that poured through during the weekend underscored the culture of denial that exists around child sexual abuse – with many wrongly characterizing this as a “women’s safety” issue. Twitter, for instance, has been deliberating on the issue through the hashtag #MakeDelhiSafe, assuming, almost, that this is a localised, city specific issue, exclusively prevalent in the national capital.
It is important for us to recognize how this debate is being distorted and to acknowledge the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse in our society, and then collectively raise our voice against the problem. Having engaged in detail on the issue over the last 18 months, I have had a first-hand window into the reluctance of most in government and also the citizenry to talk about the issue. This is exactly why, despite being a member of Parliament, I have started a change.org petition, requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to commit to a time-bound roadmap to end child sexual abuse. In less than 4 weeks, the petition has drawn nearly 1.15 lakh signatures, and is encouraging more people to speak up. The start-point of any change is mass mobilization, and in the absence of this, no government shall be receptive to taking action against these crimes.
A lakh is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to one hundred thousand (100,000; scientific notation: 105). In the Indian convention of digit grouping, it is written as 1,00,000.
More than half of all children in India are molested
India has the ignominy of being home to the largest number sexually abused children in the world. In a sample study conducted in 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development reported that 53% of all Indian children had been subject to some form of sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse leaves survivors emotionally and often, physically incapacitated for decades – instead of a positive childhood they deserve as the most vulnerable in our midst. That makes it even more important to make it our responsibility to ensure that our children are provided with a safe, healthy and happy childhood.
My petition to the prime minister makes three specific requests:
First, it asks for the government to conduct an exhaustive fact finding study to assess the full extent of the problem (both victims and predators) in our country. The oft quoted 2007 study of the Ministry of Women and Child Development was merely a sample study covering 13 states and only 12447 children, 2324 young adults and 2449 stakeholders. It is important that as a nation we understand the depth, scale and extent of this challenge and the predators. The child safety and protection discourse in India has a legacy of data inadequacy both about the victims and the criminals. This only tells us that despite children constituting more than 30% of the country’s population, no attempt has been made by any government in the last 68 years, to analyze in details crimes against them including that of the issue of cases and criminals.
Second, it asks the PM to make protecting our children a national priority and draw out a set of time-bound actionable solutions, including new laws and training/responsibilities for the governments and various institutions like police and judiciary. This needs the involvement of all stakeholders including the police, judiciary, child rights activists, policymakers and others. This national plan for child safe India should be designed with the objective of ensuring that there are enough protective institutional mechanisms in place that ensure the safety of our children from sexual predators in all institutions, including schools and orphanages
Importantly, all this to be backed by a sense of urgency so that this can be done at the earliest – reversing decades of neglect on this very important issue.
Thirdly, I have requested the government to urgently establish a framework for the regulation of child care institutions such as schools, orphanages, tutorials and others, and involve all concerned stakeholders including child rights groups and citizens groups in its designing. This body must create and enforce statutory guidelines for the protection of our children.
While great awareness has been raised about sexual violence against women in India, much less is known about the problem of sexual abuse of children. The spate of incidents that have hounded our children over the last year, from across the nation should serve as a wake up call for government, citizens and the media. India’s children deserve better, and it is up to us to ensure they get that.