In news that will be welcome relief to children’s rights groups across the country, Women and Child Development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi, on Wednesday, said that she has written to her MEA counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, asking her to revise visa rules so that, “foreign nationals with a criminal record of child abuse don’t enter India.”
According to Gandhi, unlike other countries like the US and UK—which ask for the criminal antecedents of any non-residents that enter the country in their visa application— India has no such provision as of now. “At present, foreign nationals do not have to declare their record of criminal prosecution for visas to travel to India,” Gandhi tweeted, adding that she’s asked for a format that asks for one.
The move follows a series of day-long discussions that Gandhi had held on Monday with representatives of other ministries and NGOs to come up with a national alliance to combat child sex abuse, especially those that unfold online.
During the discussions, a ministry official said, an NGO that works in the area of child sex abuse in South India, brought to the minister’s notice, the problem of foreigners that abuse children in India, and usually flee without conviction.
“Several travelling child sex offenders (TCSOs) come to India under the guise of tourism, or to volunteer in child care homes, and no one really knows what their antecedents are,” said Vidya Reddy of TULIR — an organisation that works with child abuse victims. The case of British national, Revd. Jonathan Robinson — accused of sexually abusing a young boy who was studying in one of his schools in India, was pointed to as an example.
The main problem is the lack of data in India. Currently, neither the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) or the WCD ministry has any data on the number of foreigners being caught in India for child sex abuse. However, End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) an international NGO that works on child rights in over 80 countries, cautions that this is a menace that is growing all over the world.
Sharing data with DNA, the UK chapter of ECPAT said that in 2011-12 alone, British consulates around the world received pleas for help from over 66 British nationals in cases of child sex abuse. Such cases, the organization believed, would also be received by consulates and embassies of other countries. If these cases could be collated and the data shared, the organisation believes that TCSOs could be better identified and caught.
Coming back to India, Reddy says that one of the tools that these TCSOs rely heavily is technology. One of the earliest cases was of Freddy Peats, who was arrested in 1996 in Goa. He had in his possession over 3,000 child sex abuse images. A Frenchman, Thomas, was arrested in Kolkata in November, 2015. Thomas was on the verge of abusing a child he met online.
There have also been several cases where the accused has not been extradited to India despite several requests. Notorious paedophile Raymond Varley was never extradited to India despite several requests; the last reason presented was that he was suffering from dementia. The medical report was prepared by a man who had a close association with Varley.
India’s red corner notices for paedophiles Jonathan Robinson and Paul Meekin have not even led to their arrests, let alone extradition.