The rape and brutal murder of a deaf and mute 13-year-old girl in India has sparked outrage among the public.
On Sunday morning, a man alerted the police after discovering the corpse of a child in the premises of a village school – the same school she attended – in east India’s Jharkhand state. The school was closed due to the pandemic.
The child went missing on Saturday evening while returning from Karma Parva, a harvest festival celebrated in east and northeast India.
On Tuesday, police arrested one Malik Yadav from a district, more than 50 miles from the place of crime. He had left the village immediately after the murder, fearing arrest. Malik strangled the girl and crushed her face with rocks so that she could not be identified, he told police.
“He is a 24-year-old jobless man. He does not have any criminal record,” Y S Ramesh, Superintendent of Police, Godda district, told VICE News about the offender. “We are waiting for the forensic report to examine if he was alone in the crime.”
More than a thousand people from the community blocked the main road of the village for at least three hours demanding a forensic enquiry and a fast-track court for trial.
The family has not yet spoken to the media.
Jharkhand state performs poorly on social and economic indicators, which makes it a hub for human traffickers.
“Lack of employment and liquor addiction are two primary reasons for sex crimes in Jhakhand,” Pijush Sengupta, state project manager, Action Aid Jharkhand, told VICE News.
The majority of the population migrates to urban centers such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru for work. Half a million migrant workers returned to the state after losing employment in the wake of COVID-19.
“They are depleting their savings. There is a sense of frustration among them. This contributes to an increase in crime,” said Sengupta.
But it is not just Jharkhand dealing with crimes against children in recent days. Two teenagers have been raped and murdered in north India’s Uttar Pradesh state in the last 10 days.
On Wednesday, police arrested three men in Kerala, South India, for abusing a 14-year-old girl.
India has been ranked as the most dangerous country in terms of risks women face from sexual violence and harassment, cultural and traditional practices and human trafficking including forced labor, sex slavery and domestic servitude.
Only 14 per cent of women who faced physical or sexual violence sought help to stop the violence, per the National Family Health Survey data.
In 2012, the gang rape and death of a medical student in India triggered nationwide protests against the country’s notorious rape culture, resulting in changes in laws. The case got global media attention and put the spotlight on sex crimes in India.
The problem is compounded in the context of underage girls as they are not aware of the forms of abuse or don’t know how the law functions.
India also tops the list of countries on number of reports (3.8 million) related to suspected online child sexual abuse imagery. The United States-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children collated over 23 million reports between 1998 and 2017. Of this, India, Indonesia and Thailand account for roughly 40 percent.
In 2012, India introduced Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) Act, a comprehensive law to protect minors from sex crimes including sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. There are provisions under POCSO for setting-up of special courts, appointment of special prosecutors, and support persons for minors.
According to the latest data, around 40,000 cases were reported under POCSO in 2018.
But Sonal Kellogg, independent journalist and child sexual abuse survivor, notes that laws like POCSO have been unable to check crimes against juveniles because the majority of victims don’t report abuse. This is partly due to the lack of justice in cases like these. “The other big reason is that the conviction rate under POCSO is so low — below 20 per cent nationally and in some states, it’s even in single digits,” said Kellogg in an article.
Lawyer and child rights activist Anant Asthana told VICE News that strengthening community-led initiatives are required to curb the rising cases of crime against children.
“Laws against child sexual abuse in India are very stringent,” he said. “We have to sensitise people, make committees at district and village levels. The more effectively we respond to vulnerabilities, the safer our children will be.”
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