On April 21, after the furore over the Kathua rape and murder, the government hurriedly approved an ordinance which would make the rape of a child under 12 years of age a capital crime. The ordinance also increased the term of imprisonment for rape, and proposed the setting up of fast track courts.And yet, the rapes of children continue across the country. A nine-year-old girl was raped by a 60-year-old rickshaw puller in Guntur. After luring her with sweets, the man assaulted her and dropped her back home, telling her he would kill her if she spoke to anyone about what had happened.
On April 25, a 16-year-old in Uttar Pradesh’s Dehat district was reported to have raped and beaten a 13-year-old as his parents and sister watched. On April 23, a 10-year-old child was raped by a 35-year-old family acquaintance in Orissa’s Jajpur district. The numbers pile up. A nine-year-old raped and killed in Surat; an eight-year-old raped and killed at a wedding in Uttar Pradesh; a five-year-old raped by juveniles in Telangana; an eight-month old raped in Delhi; a four-month old raped and killed in Indore. It has been five years since the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was passed. It has been two weeks since the ordinance proposing the death penalty for rape of children was approved by the Cabinet. When even the prospect of death cannot stop you from committing a crime, what can? What is it in the psyche of these men which makes it possible for them to take away an infant lying next to its mother, walk to a basement 200 metres away, and rape the baby? What makes it possible for them to walk into places of worship and assault children, assured of impunity? What makes it possible for them to entice a child with chocolates, rape her, and drop her back home? What makes it possible for them to disrobe a child, capture the video and send it out to their friends? Voyeurism is a punishable crime. Production and distribution of pornography or obscene images, with or without consent, has been a punishable crime for decades. And yet, women are terrified of hotel bathrooms and changing rooms in retail stores. Doctors are being arrested for secretly filming their female patients. What is the origin of such perversions, and how can they be tackled? Various governments have blamed everything from chow mein to “Westernisation” to the availability of pornography for rape. Various child sexual abuse awareness campaigns have been carried out, which themselves are rather dubious in nature. Parents have become conscious of speaking to their children about “good touch” and “bad touch”. Yet, children continue to be raped, even filmed during assault. They are raped for lust, raped as strategy, raped for revenge, and raped on impulse. How do we deal with a society of sociopaths? There are worries that the introduction of the death penalty for the rape of children might act as a deterrent for the victims to come forward with accounts of assault by close relatives, for fear that they could be hanged; or there could be pressure on the children from the family to keep their peace. There are also concerns that the perpetrators of sexual assault might kill the children after the assault so that they will not be found out. There have been debates about the romanticisation of stalking in cinema, about the idea of women “asking for it”. But on what medium or what culture or what assumptions can we blame the viewing of children as sexual objects? When policemen are involved in the rape and murder of a child, what hope can we place in the system? When even death does not deter rape, what will?
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