An 11-year-old class 6 student was gang-raped by four boys from class 10 in the washroom of a private school in this Haryana town last month.
Police said on Thursday the girl’s parents lodged an FIR against the accused on November 9. The family alleged in the complaint that the girl was raped by a senior and three of his friends, whom she couldn’t identify, in the school toilet before lunch break on October 14.
“The accused are students of the same school. The girl’s family reported the matter after 26 days of the incident and police started investigation after that. Police teams went to the main suspect’s home twice, but no one was there,” investigation officer Sheela Devi said.
The boys were charged with rape and criminal intimidation under provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Only one of the suspects has been identified so far, and no one has been arrested yet.
“Police teams are searching for the accused and will arrest him as soon as possible,” Devi said.
The girl fainted in court when the police took her there to register her statement before a magistrate. She was taken to hospital for treatment and medical examination.
Only a few kilometres away from the heart of the Indian capital, Shahbad Dairy is mostly inhabited by migrants and has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of crimes related to children’s protection in the past few years. Until a few years ago, the area did not have any toilets, let alone the possibility of their functioning to cater to a population of nearly 150,000 citizens.
There were a total of 12 toilets, out of which only seven functioned. These seven toilets are found in deplorable conditions, locked for most part of the day, are home to breeding diseases.
In Shahbad Dairy, women and children go to the nearby forest to relieve themselves due to the lack of toilet facilities, making them vulnerable to crime. A majority of these children are raped, teased, abused or abducted during their visits to the forest. A shocking revelation was made by an old lady who confided that some families choose not to feed their children after dusk to avoid letting the children out at night to defecate.
Education in the Shahbad Dairy
“What’s your name?” I asked a little one who had been contemplating my activities with eagerness.
“Sameer, class second,” he replied instinctively.
Education, something often taken for granted in the other parts of the city, seems to form a part of a child’s identity in Shahbad Dairy. In an area where daily wage labour is the common occupation of people, education is no less than a privilege made available to the new generation via the Right to Education Act.
Anxiety among parents
Santosh, a mother of five who still grieves the abduction of her daughter a few months back, spoke to the IPF about life as a parent in the region.
She explained that the safety of children in India is the reason behind every parent’s anxiety. Most parents do not let children out of the houses due to the fear of losing them. Having to spend one’s childhood behind closed doors not only restricts the essential co-curricular activities and creativity of the child, but also psychologically cripples them.
Simran, a little girl of three-year-old, had recently given her parents the joy of her first confident steps. But one night, while her family was asleep, she walked out of her house in search of a place to relieve herself. Unaware, Simran looked at the best opportunity and sat on the edge of a road. Before she could realise what was happening she was hit and run over by a car. This is only one of many disturbing cases that echo the need for safe and accessible toilets in Shahbad Dairy.
Due to lack of awareness many young children do not realise what constitutes rape or sexual abuse and become silent victims.
If abducted, they are transported and trafficked to places and pushed into labour or prostitution. News travels fast and cases of kidnappings and sexual exploitation have curbed speech and mobility amongst children throughout the country.
The need for government intervention
The lack of government and police action, along with widespread illiteracy, means the utilisation of other administrative services in places like Shahbad Dairy remains a challenge.
It was only after 2013 when lodging an FIR was made mandatory that the locals experienced initial support from the police. Santlal, head of Saksham, a local NGO supported by Child Rights and You, reported that most government schemes cannot be availed in areas like Shahbad Dairy. According to an RTI report, approximately 171 children since 2013 have been reported missing, out of which only about 105 have come back.
The government’s neglect acts as an incentive for the guilty to fearlessly practice and promote these crimes.
India’s missing children
The number of missing children in India is increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs data, the number of untraced children increased by a shocking 84% in the the three years between 2013 to 2015. The total number of untraced children in 2015 was 62,988, compared with 34,244 in 2013.
In order to combat these issues on a personal level, the people have taken responsibility to ensure child safety themselves. However, despite child rights group, such as CRY, continuing to raise awareness, the trend of these crimes seems undisturbed. Substance abuse continues to pose as a challenge as not only do the criminals feed off these illegal undertakings, but their popularisation amongst the youth is also pushing young adults into the habit. As a result, young children pay the cost through their lives.
The subjection to the worst of child rights’ violations at a tender age is infuriating. Furthermore, having these violations stem from the lack of a basic amenity such as toilets emphasises the need for immediate action in rural India. Our youth, who were once made to believe were special children of God, are falling prey to monstrous deeds of humans.
INDIA’S MISSING VOICES: LACK OF TOILET FACILITIES ARE LEADING TO RAPES AND ABDUCTIONS AMONG CHILDREN Gauri Bansal 13 JULY 2016
The Maharashtra State Child Rights Protection Commission on Wednesday launched the Child Helpline for Information on Rights and Address Grievances (Chirag), a mobile application for Android phones that also provides information on children's rights, including legislation.
"Nowadays, every other person uses a smartphone and downloads applications," Pankaja Munde, Maharashtra state minister for women and child welfare, told reporters.
"Chirag will enable people to reach out to the commission and save children from abuse."
Registering a complaint on the app will send an email to the commission, which will direct it to police or a child-rights charity. A statewide campaign is being rolled out to create awareness in schools, offices and elsewhere, Munde said.
Officials in Maharashtra, one of India's wealthiest states, said earlier this week they had set up a special investigation team to look into allegations of sexual abuse of at least 12 girls at a boarding school for tribal children.
That came on the heels of an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission into the deaths of more than 700 indigenous children in the past decade in state-run schools in Maharashtra.
India is the world's second biggest market for mobile phones, with more than 1 billion users. Use of smartphones is increasing on the back of rising incomes.
Earlier this year, India's only toll-free emergency helpline for street children and children in distress unveiled kiosks with touch-screen technology to replace disappearing public telephone booths.
A total of 94,172 crimes against children were recorded last year, according to official data, marginally higher than the previous year. Many more crimes go unreported, activists say.
The mobile app can help increase awareness and take the message of children's rights further, said Sanjay Macwan, field office director at the International Justice Mission, the rights group that helped develop the app.
"The app puts promotion, protection and preservation of child rights in peoples' hands," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Rights issues can be dry, hard to understand. The app makes it easy to grasp and accessible to anyone with a phone."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking,