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Why Child Rights campaigns in India have failed to stop incidents like Ryan school murder

Are we holding ourselves accountable for failing in our duty to educate and empower our kids on the subjects of sexuality? Photograph: (Facebook)

Delhi, India Sep 12, 2017, 07.53 AM (IST) Ashok G.V.

The recent murder of a boy in a prominent international school has once again reignited focus on the issue of the safety of our children. Good spirited citizens and stalwarts of the child rights movement in India have declared war against the rape of children. This will hopefully raise much-needed awareness and make our population conscious of their role in ensuring our children’s safety. However, call me a sceptic, but somehow the efficacy of these campaigns remain debatable (notwithstanding the good intentions behind them) considering how infrequent they are and how little effort is being made to tackle the grassroots problems around child sexual abuse.  

A more recent study by World Vision revealed that 1 in 2 children are sexually abused.
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A 2007 Government of India study on the magnitude of child abuse in India revealed that 53 per cent of boys and 47 per cent of girls who were part of the study revealed one or the other form of child sexual abuse. A more recent study by World Vision revealed that 1 in 2 children are sexually abused. In other words, from 2007 to 2017, we haven’t had much luck in reducing the number of children who are sexually victimised. 

Law enforcement statistics don’t inspire much confidence either. A study by the Centre for Child and Law, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru on the functioning of special courts across the country revealed poor conviction rates and poorer compliance with the beneficial procedures for trial under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Poor quality investigations and prosecutions, lack of means to achieve expeditious administration of justice and, therefore, excellent acquittal rates, were as many problems a decade back as they are now. What has changed after years of campaigns and protests? The law? Yes. But are our children any less victimised? No. Where are we going wrong then?

On the prevention front, most states are yet to formulate child protection policies for children at school. Schools in Bangalore that saw incidents of child sexual abuse on campus early on, following the enactment of the POCSO Act, continue to function without much consequences. University and school campuses in the United States of America have suffered prohibitive orders for payment of damages that just makes it too expensive for them to not take the safety of students on campus seriously. When will we see such accountability in India? 

Our discomfort around the subject of sexuality and corresponding safety translates to ignorance for our children.
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Secondly, parents continue to transfer the onus of safety and sexuality education to educational institutions without making that a conversation at home. Our discomfort around the subject of sexuality and corresponding safety translates to ignorance for our children. Couple that with a culture of body shaming and pressure to achieve and our kids are not only ignorant but lack self-esteem. The result is vulnerability to abuse: emotional, physical and sexual. Plus, we also have a recurring and more widespread problem of incestuous child sexual abuse at home. Still, we continue to teach our children to obey elders without question. So this begs the question, are we holding ourselves accountable for failing in our duty to educate and empower our kids?

While the crime prevention dynamic is pathetic, crime investigations and prosecution fare no better. Our law enforcement agencies lack specialisation and a culture of research which is necessary to ensure effective institutions. Yet no campaign so far has demanded that the Government of India institute a program on the lines of the Behavioral Sciences Unit of the FBI in the USA. We still don’t understand the child sex offender, because thus far, law enforcement has made no effort to study them to understand the patterns and motives governing these crimes.

Only one researcher in Criminology tried to study convicted rapists in India and our law enforcement must ask themselves why it was a good spirited citizen and not them that made this first effort. On an average, a DNA test report takes 18 months because we don’t have enough forensic science laboratories. The sum total of these failures is that we don’t have effective investigation tools and techniques to catch sex offenders quickly and effectively. 

While we are content distributing sweets when rapists are sentenced to death and we burn police stations, we refuse to focus on what we really need to prevent, deter and punish crimes against women and children.
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Yet none of our campaigns so far have demanded the reforms necessary to address the above problems. While we are content distributing sweets when rapists are sentenced to death and we burn police stations, we refuse to focus on what we really need to prevent, deter and punish crimes against women and children. So far, the movement for victim’s rights has suffered from intellectual laziness and profound insensitivity to the real problems on the ground. The reactive approach to sex crimes has served the only purpose of venting emotion and changing laws but has failed to achieve the necessary means to enforce those laws effectively. This begs the last question, are we holding ourselves accountable for our inefficiency as citizen activists?

Lastly, you might ask- who am I to judge people’s emotions on the streets? I am a nobody, I admit. In fact, I shudder to put myself in the shoes of the child or the family that has been victimised by or affected by child sexual abuse. It is a nightmare in every sense of the word. But solutions I am afraid, come from a clinical approach to crime, bereft of emotions and supported by objective research. No doubt we should be angry and no doubt that we should empathise with the child who lost his life. But that anger and that empathy will go to a waste if we can’t make our country safer for the other children out there. Can we, therefore, take a breather, sit on the drawing table and start planning and then act? For I feel that the war on rape can be won with strategy and not by a spontaneous call for action.

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