The other Ruchikas

Akash Bisht Delhi

The revelations of Ruchika Girhotra's case left the entire nation shocked. What enraged the people more was the grin on the face of the former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore after he was sentenced for six months in prison for sexually assaulting the teenager that led to her committing suicide. (He immediately got bail.) The smirk on Rathore's face was a cruel reminder of how easy it is for powerful and rich people in India to get away with a crime that could so tragically alter the life of a child or teenager forever. In Ruchika's case, the teenager had no option but to commit suicide as the entire police machinery and government rallied to protect Rathore, while hounding Ruchika, her brutally tortured brother and her family. It won't be a wrong to argue that the insensitivity of the government and law enforcement machinery might have encouraged many more like Rathore to commit such crimes and get away with it. Tens of thousands of such children in India are subjected to ghastly crimes that devastate their lives forever, but their stories are neither reported nor investigated. 

Such is the indifference of the government that around 45,000 children go missing in India every year and the government seems to do very little in tracing them out. The police swing into action if a kid from a rich family disappears or is kidnapped, while the pleas of poor parents are unheard, rejected and gagged.

In 2007, the Union ministry of women and child development released a report, 'Child abuse in India'. The report showcased how the majority of children in India face some form of criminal act leaving a deep scar on their psyche. The report highlighted that in the age group of 5-12, two out of three children in the India were physically abused but did not report the matter to anyone. The report reckoned that 53.22 per cent children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse. Among these, 21.90 per cent child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse, 50.76 per cent faced other forms of sexual abuse while 5.69 per cent reported that they were sexually assaulted but did not report the matter to anyone. The report read: "Out of the total child respondents, 20.90 per cent were subjected to severe forms of sexual abuse that included sexual assault, making the child fondle private parts, making the child exhibit private body parts and being photographed in the nude."

Shockingly, out of this, 57.30 per cent were boys and 42.70 per cent girls. An equal percentage of both girls and boys reported facing emotional abuse while 48.4 per cent of girls 'wished' they were boys. Additionally, 53 per cent of children not attending schools were abused in family confines, 50 per cent reported sexual abuse in schools, 47.08 per cent in institutional care and 61.31 per cent at workplaces.

India has the largest number of working children and child labourers in the world. They work in the most sub-human conditions in our towns and metros, often sexually and physically abused, hungry and malnourished, with a 24-hour working day, no rights, no holidays, no social safety nets, not even a proper shelter, alienated, lonely and unhappy, and with abysmally low wages. Those in domestic slavery are equally bad off, with relentless hard labour and exploitation, often facing violent punishments and beatings by their 'educated' urban employers. Even the judicial ruling banning child labour is being universally and brazenly flouted.

According to Childline, an NGO, India has the world's largest number of sexually abused children, with a child below 16 years raped every 155th minute, a child below 10 every 13th hour and one in every 10 children sexually abused at any point of time.

In a report released by Navshrithi, a Delhi-based NGO, a girl mentions how she was taken to Ajmer where several other girls like her were kept in confinement only to be sold to clients from the Gulf countries. Reena Banerjee of Navshristi says, "Most of these children are trafficked to different parts of the country and sometimes even abroad for prostitution, marriage, begging, organ and flesh trading, drug-peddling and smuggling, hard labour, adoption, entertainment and sports." Hardnews had earlier reported on how difficult it is for poor parents to even lodge an FIR of their missing children.

A report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) claimed, "Crime against children increased by 3.8 per cent nationally (14,975 cases in 2005 from 14,423 in 2004); child rape increased by 13.7 per cent (4,026 cases from 3,542 in 2004); Delhi tops the list of 35 Indian cities on crime against children."

In a country where girls are still killed before they are born, the fate of the ones who survive doesn't tell a great story either. They survive and suffer serious violations that are not even documented. According to conservative estimates, more than 3-5 lakh girl children are trapped in commercial sex and organised prostitution.

The government's lack of concern for children is reflected by the fact that there is no separate legislation for child abuse and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, is not proficient to check the issue of sexual abuse among children. According to the Juvenile Justice Act, every police station should have a juvenile police unit (which remains non-existent), while a bill specifically for child sexual abuse awaits cabinet's nod.

The recent media reports on how India is becoming a safe haven for paedophiles should be a cause of grave concern for the government and authorities. However, with barely any mechanisms in place to deal with child abuse, or even an iota of expressed concern, the prospect of India's future generations and children of innocent blossoming in a safe, creative, playful and happy environment of learning looks bleak

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2010

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