On Wednesday, a five-year-old child was found to have been kidnapped by her neighbour. She had been raped repeatedly over a period of two days, made to go without food and water, and tortured. Doctors treating her have said they found pieces of candle and a 200 ml bottle inside her. Her genitals were mutilated, and she had injuries on her lips, cheeks, and neck.
As the child struggles for her life, protests are being organised in Delhi. Articles are being written about how unsafe the national capital is, and how corrupt its police force is.
Yes, all of this is important. The girl’s father, a mason, has said they were turned away by the police when they tried to lodge a missing person complaint, and were later offered a bribe of Rs 2000 for “kharcha-pani”, in an attempt to buy their silence.
But more worrying than the crime rate of the national capital and the corruptibility of the police is the fact that there is a rapid increase in the number of cases of child molestation and rape.
In a blog post, anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan has spoken of the increase in numbers, and the rape of children as young as 3 years of age. In the same post, she says a child who was sleeping with her mother on a footpath in Kerala was dragged away and raped.
Two months ago, three sisters – aged 6, 8 and 11 – were raped, murdered, and thrown into a well in Bhandara district of Maharashtra.
A seven-year-old child was raped in a municipal school in Delhi.
Last September, a one-and-a-half year old child was raped in Kolkata.
A thirteen-year-old girl was raped at knifepoint by a lorry driver in Chennai in early March.
Around the same time, a 5-year-old tribal child was raped in Jamshedpur, and had to wait for hours before a hospital would admit her.
In October 2010, siblings aged 8 and 10 were kidnapped and killed in Coimbatore – the girl had been raped, while her brother had been tortured.
In a talk given at TED in 2009, Sunitha Krishnan – herself a rape victim – told the stories of three children, aged 3, 4 and 5. Pranitha was sold by her dying mother, a commercial sex worker, to a pimp. She was raped by three men before she was rescued. Shaheen was found on a railway track, having been raped so forcefully that her intestines had fallen out of her body, and she needed 32 stitches for them to be put back. Anjali was sold by her father into the child pornography industry. None of these children survived.
Why are our cities and villages getting so unsafe for children? It may be the case that crime is reported more often than it was earlier. Or, it may be that the numbers have grown with an increase in population. But neither of these theories fully explains the alarming rate at which children are being brutalised.
When our generation was growing up, people didn’t worry that their children wouldn’t come back when they went to play in the neighbourhood. We were warned to stay away from main roads, for fear of our being run over. We were warned to stay away from strangers, for fear of our being kidnapped for ransom. But rape was something that happened to older people.
Today, I don’t imagine any parent would be comfortable with his or her children running off to play without adult supervision. I don’t imagine any parent will send a child walking alone to school, an activity that was quite normal in our time.
We need to look at why our children are not safe anymore, why there seem to be so many paedophiles, so many more violators of children than there were in our day.
Are the numbers lying, because we’re simply looking at reported crime?
Or is there a more sinister reason, such as the availability of child porn?
The reasons may become clearer if we were to look at the profiles of convicted – or accused – child molesters and rapists. Do most of them watch child pornography? What are their professions? Where do they come from? Where do they find their victims? What time of day or night do they usually attack? While this may have certain disastrous results, just as racial profiling does, it could also give us insights into the psychology of such criminals.
Another move that the government should consider is making available a complete database of all convicted perpetrators of crime against children, complete with names, photographs and other biographical details. Yes, it will hamper their chances of finding employment after release from prison. But wouldn’t you want to be certain the man driving your child to school is not, at the very least, a convicted paedophile? That your tenant or landlord is not a child molester?
In my opinion, people convicted of raping children should never be allowed to step out of jails. But since our laws do not allow for that, we should at least be allowed access to their records.
Because, almost every day, a child, somewhere in India, is being raped.
Read more from this author:
In defence of the 'sexists'
When did we lose our right to protest?
How pragmatic is a student protest?
Sri Lanka issue is about human rights, not Tamil sentiment
Acid attacks in India: Is there a solution?
Is India getting a good deal with Cameron?
Does India have to be so afraid of its citizens?
Why you should watch Vishwaroopam
The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com