Let’s be the first line of defence for our children

The National Crime Records Bureau report that was released on December 4, 2023 revealed that crimes against children have gone up in India from 33.6 per cent in 2021 to 36.6 per cent in 2022. 

Many of us in our late 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s remember our childhood with great nostalgia. We recall it as an idyllic time when we were free to roam in the colonies we grew up in and the by-lanes and parks we played in. We fondly recall the markets we visited on our own to buy that ice cream or cold drink. It was a time when our mothers could ask us to run an errand to the shop close by and we could play till the street lights came on. The only thing we were afraid of back then was the dark and father’s scoldings for some misdemeanour.

Fast forward to the India of today and by and large in the urban areas we see that there is almost no unsupervised play time for children. Mothers don’t let their kids out of their sight. For those who can afford it, the children are accompanied everywhere by their mothers, grandparents, or nannies and those who can’t, just make sure that the children stay inside. By and large, it is only the children of the underprivileged or those who live in rural areas, who can still be seen playing outside the house unsupervised.

The answer as to why our children are living under the shadow of fear is very disturbing and shameful.

While India is blessed with a young population, out of the 142 crore people, a whopping 26 per cent are children between the ages of 0 to 14 years, which is a very vulnerable age group. Though this means that unlike China and some European nations with ageing populations, our future is secure in our children, we are not being able to secure the future of these very children. If official data is anything to go by, crimes against children are going up in India each passing year.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report that was released on December 4, 2023, the crimes against children have gone up in India from 33.6 per cent in 2021 to 36.6 per cent in 2022. 

NCRB data reveals that 99 children were raped and murdered in 2022, while another 1,340 were murdered. And these are just the official figures as so many cases go unreported or undetected. 

Disturbingly, there were 64,469 victims in 2022 under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act. What a reprehensible thing to happen! We are preying on our children and ruining their innocence and mental, physical and emotional security forever!

Just look at these appalling figures. In 2022, a total of 38,444 victims were registered under Sections 4 and 6 (punishment for penetrative sexual assault), a surge as compared to 33,348 in 2021. The data showed aggravated penetrative sexual assault under the POCSO Act and in these cases 38,030 were girls while 414 were boys. 

Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of assaults under the POCSO Act (8,151) followed by Maharashtra (7,572), Madhya Pradesh (5,996), Tamil Nadu (4,968) and Rajasthan (3,371).

Among Union Territories, Delhi witnessed 1,512 incidents under POCSO Act in 2022, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (316), Puducherry (105), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (109) and Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu (55). 

There were 76,069 cases of kidnapping of children in 2022 and Uttar Pradesh topped the list among states in abductions.

There were 102 cases of foeticide registered last year with the maximum cases being reported in Gujarat (18) followed by Maharashtra (17) and Chhattisgarh (16) and Rajasthan (13). 

The data also revealed that 13,927 minor girls were abducted last year from across the country in a bid to force them into marriage. Bihar (4,070) topped the list followed by Uttar Pradesh (3,846).

The figures and the news stories that we read daily paint an ugly picture. We are killing our girls in the womb and we are using babies as a commodity for making money by selling them after birth. We are also abducting children for the sex trade, human trafficking, child labour, organ harvesting, beggary and thievery.

We are also making and watching pornographic content involving children. Consequently, they are being raped and murdered by their family members, neighbours, acquaintances and strangers alike making it a very unsafe world for them.

They are being used for bootlegging and in unsafe factories just because they are small and helpless and can be easily subdued. Girls are being sold into “marriage” in many states, particularly Haryana, where they are exploited sexually by all the male members of the family. Look at the travesty, first we kill off the girls in the womb due to a misguided preference for the male child and then we indulge in abduction and trafficking of girls because there are no girls left to marry in certain areas. The list of crimes and atrocities that we commit on our young and helpless citizens is endless.  

The big question is what kind of a Hell are we creating for our children, and why?

One simplistic explanation is that though poverty was always there, people were not so aspirational. ‘Thoda hai, thode ki zaroorat hai’ a song from a film from yesteryears defines the generations of baby boomers. Now, with increasing education and awareness, people have become materialistic, whether they have the means to fulfil their material desires or not. So they commit crimes to augment income, which includes trafficking for organs, sex, child labour, selling of babies and so on.

The problem is also compounded by the fact that drug addiction is growing exponentially and addicts tend to commit crimes so that they can get a fix, even if it means harming a child. 

Easy access to porn in a country where there are almost no jobs in the rural areas and in small towns, forcing people to stay away from their families for months on end, results in men preying on children who can be easily subdued. The migrating population doesn’t hesitate to commit a crime in a city where they are nameless and faceless, unlike on their own turf where they are known to all and committing a heinous crime can upend the life of the entire family, not just the perpetrator.

We have the laws to protect our children but in a huge country like ours, the police forces are overworked as are the courts and the security apparatus around us.

So, while the security apparatus can’t be exonerated of all responsibility on the plea of overwork, the onus on protecting our kids falls on us too. The parents, extended family and society, are responsible too. Remember it takes a village to raise a child and with the joint family system going into oblivion in most metropolitans, the kids who stay alone with both parents working are vulnerable. Even those with stay at home moms are vulnerable both in the house and outside.

So keep alert and speak up if you see something wrong, spread awareness and teach young parents and children how to protect themselves from crimes. You’ll be surprised how ignorant or innocent even the most educated people are where basic safety issues are concerned.

Also, the world as we know it has changed. While on the macro level we are all connected with the information superhighway, on the micro level we are all living on isolated islands. So while gangs of criminals are making use of social media and the net, particularly the dark net to connect and communicate with each other and get into our homes via technology to abduct, traffic and kill our children, the people-to-people connection is getting lost on the ground.

The only way to keep our precious young demographic safe is to make strong social and societal connections and keep our eyes peeled as a first line of defence. If it takes a village to raise one child it takes the whole country to raise millions of them. Let’s protect our precious demographic dividend.