Updated: Nov 29, 2020
"They would not give us anything to eat if I don’t pose and act the way they want me to, they have said that they will starve me and siblings to death if I don’t listen to them. Please help", said 14-year-old Suhana who is an orphan and a forced beggar in Delhi to a local Delhi based NGO.
The NGO, All India council of human rights, liberties, and social justice (AICHCS), informed Delhi high court in its plea that there are millions of such Suhana’s around India, many of whom have access to nothing and cannot make their plea to anyone trustworthy. Thousands of children are abducted every year by kidnappers and made to beg and perform in child pornography which is a global compilation of reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), India stands 1st with 11.7% of the total report or 19.87 lakh reports in the lines of other countries when it comes to viewing and downloading CSAM from porn websites. After India is Pakistan with 6.8% of all reports and Bangladesh with 3.3% or 5.5 lakh reports. According to the latest reports of the India child protection fund (ICPF) set by Nobel laureate, Kailash Satyarthi's son Bhavan Ribhu revealed a steep increase in demand for child pornography along with an increase in India centric traffic on Pornhub to 95%.
With 472 million children, India has the highest child population in the world and as of the latest reports every second child in India has been going through child abuse at some stage of their lives. In the surge of contagious COVID-19 the world is a pause. Schools, colleges, coaching institutes etc. are put to hold and are instructed to operate online. With the closure of educational institutions children have lost physical contact with people of their trust, they are now confined to their residential places. Speaking of RAINN’s (international organization working against child abuse) latest interview with NPR, Camille Cooper, the organization’s Vice President said that there is a 22% increase in monthly calls from people younger than 18 and of all the calls 67% have identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79% said that they were currently living with their perpetrator!
Unlike the rest of the world children in India can be broadly categorized into two sets: 1st being the kids like Suhana who barely have access to anything and are forced to listen to their masters in order to survive. Though the Indian judiciary system gives them the right to live freely and make complaints to the authority of any misbehaviour but, as these kids work under their masters and live in barely accessible places where a lot of violence among them is not even looked upon as violence. Many of these children accept it as part and parcel of their lives due to the societal setup they live in.
2nd being the mediocre family kids who have access to resources depending on the open-mindedness and monthly income of their parents. Though most of these kids have access to education which enlightens them about the good and bad touch but as most of the accuser is either a family member or a known person of relation, the nationwide lockdown has locked them with their accusers. The closer of educational institutions has made every physical contact with their trustworthy people like friends, teachers, and counselors impossible. As of government officials and DCW ( Delhi Commission for women)in response to the plea made by the NGO, All India council of human right, liberties, and social justice (AICHCS) in Delhi high court claiming that there was an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence and child abuse in lockdown, said that there are sufficient measures in place to safeguard victims of any kind of violence and there are 24x7 helplines and when a complaint is received, the rescue of victims is carried out immediately. Although making a complaint itself is not an easy task for these kids due to the presence of the perpetrators in the house and the fear of being caught that would lead to further violence.
To encourage those victims not to make any calls/complaints to the authority the Indian government should work actively and operate rescue operations for whoever making complaints. The 24-hour emergency phone helpline "1098" for children provided by the government that operates in 569 of India's 718 districts and at 128 railway stations, is filled with complaints of 300,000 courageous kids during this lockdown. Although as of government officials most of these calls were inquiry regarding the COVID-19 and the lockdown, and rescue operations are being made for all those calls that were sole regarding the sexual abuse.
A special cell has been created on "Cyber Dome" to nab child abusers who use encrypted apps such as 'telegram' and 'WhatsApp' to deal with CSAM. Stringent action under the information technology act, involving 10 years of imprisonment and implementation of necessary actions under the protection of children from sexual offenses (POCSO) act,2012 is in the offing for such perpetrators.