Implement New Law, Monitor Children’s Institutions
July 24, 2014
“News reports of yet another horrific child sexual abuse case suggest that the Indian central and state authorities need to be doing more to protect children. There should 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.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director

(New York) – The rape of a 6-year-old girl at a school in Bangalore has refocused attention on sexual abuse of children in India, Human Rights Watch said today. India’s central and state governments should take immediate steps to implement the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The July 2014 attack in Bangalore follows several highly publicized incidents of sexual abuse of children in schools, alternative care institutions, and family settings. In May, villagers protested after two teenage girls from a marginalized community in the northern Indian village of Badaun were found hanging from a tree, allegedly gang-raped and murdered. In the same month, children at a residential shelter for the underprivileged in the town of Karjat in western India reported that they had been raped, forced to watch and enact scenes from pornographic films, and made to eat feces. In April 2013, a 5-year-old girl was allegedly abducted, raped, and tortured for two days by her neighbors in Delhi. These attacks have led to numerous public protests calling for effective action.

“News reports of yet another horrific child sexual abuse case suggest that the Indian central and state authorities need to be doing more to protect children,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “There should 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.”

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, all forms of child sexual abuse are for the first time specific criminal offenses. The law also establishes important guidelines for the police and courts to deal with victims sensitively and provides for creating special courts to handle these cases. The provisions have contributed to increased reporting of child rape cases across the country. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 12,363 cases of alleged child rape were reported in 2013, compared with 8,541 in 2012, an increase of 45 percent.

But the law has yet to be effectively implemented. In the Bangalore case, the parents of the victim filed a police complaint in early July 2014. However, delays in an investigation as a result of alleged police inaction, and public suspicions that the management of the prominent school was trying to keep the case quiet to cover up negligence, led thousands of parents to protest, beginning July 15. The police have since arrested a rape suspect, the school’s skating instructor. The school’s chairman has also been arrested for allegedly concealing information from the police and trying to destroy evidence. State authorities have also transferred two top police officers from Bangalore.

In the Badaun case, the girls’ relatives alleged that the police refused to help them find the missing girls or receive their complaint and instead ridiculed them and sent them away after asking about their caste. The authorities eventually arrested five suspects, including two policemen who were charged with criminal conspiracy for refusing to accept the complaint or take any action.

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. A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch found that many children were effectively mistreated a second time by police and other authorities who did not want to hear or believe their accounts, and subjected to traumatic medical examinations. The sexual abuse of children in residential care facilities for orphans and other vulnerable children is a particularly serious problem.

“Too often, Indian officials react angrily to media questions after child sexual abuse incidents,” Ganguly said. “Instead of wishing the complaints away, the authorities should focus on creating a well-trained and accountable police force, and create protection mechanisms in schools and institutions.”

In Bangalore, according to police, the school had failed to verify the background of the accused teacher, who had been fired from another school for gross misconduct after repeated warnings not to touch girls inappropriately.

To prevent sexual abuse of children, state governments should draw up guidelines for schools and other educational institutions. The state authorities should also ensure that all institutions housing children are subject to regular and periodic inspections, and institute regulation of residential care facilities that includes independent and confidential interactions with children and staff.

In June 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns over child sexual abuse in India and the fear of social stigma that leads to many cases going unreported. The committee recommended that the Indian government establish mechanisms, procedures, and guidelines to ensure mandatory reporting of all cases of child sexual abuse and take necessary measures to ensure the proper investigation, prosecution, and punishment of the abusers. It also urged the Indian authorities to conduct awareness-raising activities, with children’s participation, to prevent child sexual abuse.

Schools and children’s institutions can also take steps to prevent abuse of children. Each institution should have a standard and uniform child protection policy applicable to all permanent and part-time employees and consultants. Children should be given age-appropriate orientation and training about the institution’s protection policy and the reporting procedure. Complaint mechanisms should be accessible, child-friendly, effective, and impartial, and allow for anonymous reporting. All institutions should also establish an independent and impartial child abuse monitoring committee to oversee and implement the guidelines.

“Child sexual abuse remains a serious problem despite a good law to address it,” Ganguly said. “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.” 

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