New Delhi: With the country increasingly facing several incidents of child sexual abuse, Justice Usha Mehra, a former Law Commission member, who headed the Justice Usha Mehra Commission and submitted its report after the Nirbhaya gang rape,told News18 that a ‘Child Sexual Offender Database (CSOD) is a must for the country and is needed to nab habitual offenders of such a heinous crime.’
Justice Mehra said that most of her recommendation following the December 2012 gang rape continue to remain on paper and needs immediate implementation.
‘Child Sexual Offender Database is a must for the country. I had mentioned in my report as well that when a child is travelling in a private school bus then school attendants must be present and when it is a school bus, the background check of such drivers and conductors must be thorough. Often the antecedents of such employees are not checked well and it results in such heinous offences being committed. Such a database would actually help immensely while conducting such checks,’ said the former Delhi High Court judge.
Following closely on the heels of the Bengaluru molestation episode on the New Year’s Eve, a middle aged tailor was arrested on Sunday in a case of molestation of two minor girls. He also confessed that he has been sexually abusing dozens of children, mostly girls for the last 12 years.
Even the former Chairperson of the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Shanta Sinha agreed with Justice Mehra on the establishment of CSOD.
“Child Sexual Offender Database is definitely a solution to this menace. This database will actually help employers to verify credentials of the applicants when someone registers for the job of a carpool driver, conductor, helpers, etc,” said Sinha.
India is home to 19% of the world’s children. As per the 2001 census, about 440 million individuals in India were below 18 years of age and constitute 42% of total population. A total of 33,098 cases of sexual abuse in children were reported in the nation during the year 2011 when compared to 26,694 reported in 2010 which increased by 24%.
A study was conducted in 2007 by Ministry of women and child development in India covering 13 states. The study reported that about 21% of the participants were exposed to extreme forms of sexual abuse.
Sinha even said that the main reason behind such attack in spite of the prevalent laws of the country was the need to ‘break the silence’.
“There is so much silence over these issues. Majority of such cases are often by someone who knows the child personally and the need of the hour is to break the silence. Children must be taught the difference between good touch and bad touch,” said Sinha.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO), 2012, is the strongest law in India to tackle sexual abuse against Children at the moment. The Act even makes abetment of child sexual abuse an offense. It also provides for various procedural reforms, making the process of trial in India considerably easier for children.
However, Sinha feels ‘POSCO is often rendered not-workable in the absence of rules, regulation and a proper system to implement some of its provisions.
“The ‘Mandatory Reporting’ clause under POSCO which makes it a crime to not report about an offence of sexual abuse even though you know about it is not workable because of the absence of supporting rules and regulation. A neighbor is often aware of a kid being abused but does not report it considering it is a private matter but fails to realize it’s a matter of human rights violation,” said Sinha.
Recollecting one of the cases Sinha dealt as the Chairperson of NCPCR, she said that there was a case where 10 girls were molested in Kerala.
“The psychiatrist who dealt with it wanted to remain confidential. But what would be her situation when the mandatory reporting clause of POSCO is in place? There needs to be more clarity,” said Sinha.
Even Utsav Bains, the lawyer who represented the victims of the Murthal rape case and has been a strong voice against child sexual abuse said even though a database of such offenders would help in fighting such an offence but ‘the speed of justice may hinder the functioning of such a database.’
“Such a database would be of great help but the issue is the people who are included in the database cannot be only on the basis of the FIR but on the basis of conviction. The rate of conviction in our country is low because of the lack of police manpower and the shortage of judges in the system. In the Bangalore molestation case, the guilty was convicted a few years ago of a similar crime but was not apprehended this time but if such a database is in place then such a problem can be dealt with,” said Bains.
Even Justice Mehra echoed Bains’s concern and said that the way ‘prosecution bundles up rape cases have led to the courts being so liberal while letting off an accused in a case of rape or molestation’.
“In courts also, many convicted in rape and molestation cases are walking free because prosecution often bundles up the evidence and the cases. They record only those statements which they think is correct rather than what has been submitted. Often a child victim is cross-examined years after the incident has happened when she hardly remembers anything. Hence the condition that such cases must be disposed of within six months must be strictly followed,” said Justice Mehra.
The 12th five-year plan (2011-2016) of the Ministry of Women and Child Development has also emphasised on the need for strict preventive measures for child abuse with even Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) releasing guidelines for the prevention of child abuse. Prior to this, there were no such guidelines in existence in other states of India.
However Bains told News18 that ‘India needs to spend more on judiciary which can strengthen the judicial infrastructure.’
“Only 0.3% of the GDP is spent on judiciary which is in need of a better infrastructure and an increase in the number of judges. A case like this takes almost seven to eight years to get resolved and by the time justice is meted out, the case is out of public memory, hence fails to serve as a deterrent,” said Bains.