Far more offences against children are committed not only in India but across the globe.
There is a lot of talk about Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act amendment for more stringent punishment but official data for 2016 shows just 36,000 offences registered under the Act. If one goes by India’s male child population, which is about 18 crores, one would easily guess that cases under Pocso Act are but the tip of the iceberg.
Far more offences against children are committed not only in India but across the globe. Non-recognition and non-registration are widespread. Being a criminologist, I would say that in recent years sexual offences against children are on a high trajectory. The media, politicians and public should do something about it on a priority basis.
There are different forms of child sex abuses; fondling, kissing, rubbing of erotic regions, probing erotic spots, and then finally intercourse. Earlier, acts like kissing and rubbing were very common, often ignored and not reported; even when reported, the police would not consider them serious enough to set the law in motion. Which calls for short- and long-term measures to check this menace.
Data show that 55 to 60 per cent of predators are relatives, followed by neighbours, friends and strangers. In the last category, it would be about 10 per cent.
What happens if the child reports the offensive act to parents? Only misbehaviour involving strangers will be reported to authorities or to the police. Reporting has been abysmally poor because of this mindset.
Parental supervision is hugely lacking. Parents do not provide inputs to children on sex and sexual abuse, to either daughters or sons. Parents should teach sons how to behave and it should meld into child bringing-up practice in the family.
The urban scene is tricky. Both parents are working. As a social scientist, I have no issues if both parents work but the fact is parental supervision, in the absence of substitutive services, becomes lax and children are left to fend for themselves.
On the other hand, those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder — manual labour who suffer various deprivations —ignore child abuse or sexual abuse cases. What we have found is that this phenomenon is there even in forward-looking states like Gujarat, notably among daily-wage earners. The exploitation of their children is, more often than not, being ignored. Poverty is a factor in the sexual exploitation of the most fragile segment of society.
The worst case perpetrators belong to the hyper libido group. For them, children are mere sex objects, sans any personality as individuals.
How to put a check on this socio-economic and criminal problem? India has been over-reliant on law to resolve what essentially is a social problem. We also have outdated theories like deterrence. Deterrence is 200 years old. No psychologist, sociologist or criminologist accepts it. There are several reasons to show that deterrence is outdated. Recent amendments to Pocso Act are unclear. As against the severity of punishment, certainty of punishment will pay off. The police must shed its Victorian approach, which is to act after the occurrence of crime than be proactive to prevent it. Police should complete the investigations in the shortest possible time, and court should be able to take cognizance. Unfortunately, three crore cases are pending in court. That's a poser on the principle of certainty of punishment.
(The writer was Professor of Criminology at the National Institute of Criminology & Forensic Science before his long innings at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, as Dean at the Faculty of Social Sciences. He is past President of Indian Society of Psychiatric Social Work and past President of Indian Society of Criminology)