The statistical information around increasing incidence of child sexual abuse in India is a sobering reminder for why we need radical changes in our fight against Child Sexual Abuse. According to government figures released in December ’17, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes. Alarming statistics like these, with recurring headlines of horrific incidents of sexual abuse against children point to the gaping holes in the existing laws for prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. The effects of child sexual abuse weigh heavily on the tens-of-thousands new sexual abuse victims every year, resulting in a wide range of traumatic and oppressive psychological and physiological disorders that often plague child victims through their adult lives. Recent reports of the government mulling the possibility of lifting the time bar on reporting child sexual abuse is an example of these gaps gaining attention because of greater awareness.
With one-fifth of the world’s children, India holds the dubious distinction of the largest number of child sexual abuse cases being registered globally and yet Child Sexual Abuse in India is a tragically under researched subject and one that remains ridden with huge stigmas and taboos. Even historically, CSA has been a hidden problem in India, largely ignored in public discourse and by the criminal justice system. Until the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, CSA was not even acknowledged as a separate criminal offence. Rape was the main, if not the only, specific sexual offence against children recognised by law in India. In the absence of specific legislation, a range of offensive behaviours such as child sexual assault (not amounting to rape), harassment, and exploitation for pornography were never legally condemned. With the landmark POCSO Act addressing a range of these issues, there is still a long way that our criminal justice system needs to go in curbing this issue. The conversation around dealing with child sexual abuse needs to expand in terms of the ways in which our social and public forces deal with child sexual abuse. To aid investigation against sexual offenders for instance, the concept of a Sexual Offenders Registry merits further consideration.
A Sex Offender Registry is essentially a database of convicted sex offenders maintained by authorities to refer to in future investigations and to monitor to a certain extent, the activities of the convicted offenders. The idea behind this is to primarily aid law enforcers in their job. The past cases of child sexual abuse that created furor, revealed that a large part of the problem lies in the investigation process and judicial inefficiency, inspite of the POCSO courts.
The case of the Delhi based tailor Sunil Rastogi, charged with assaulting over a hundred minor girls inspite of serving an earlier sentence of rape of a minor, is a classic example of why we need a sex offender’s registry as part of our law to Protect Children from Sexual Offences and how this can impact investigations and prevent crimes. The aim of the registry is also to decrease recidivism rates i.e. deter serial offenders as in the above mentioned case and so many others that haven’t come to light. It took one incident of the tragic murder and rape of Megan Kanka in the United States, by a formerly convicted offender to spark national outrage and compel a change in their law for protection of children. Megan’s Law is the US federal law that mandated establishment of a Sex Offenders Registry.
Sex Offenders Registries exist in various countries across the globe. Nations like the United States have a complex tiered system of sex offender registration while countries like Canada have more straightforward systems of registration and monitoring. Kenya, Nigeria and Taiwan have also established their own systems of mandatory sex offender registration in the past decade. These registries can serve as instruments for institutions, particularly schools, to conduct checks on prospective employees before hiring them and reducing probability of children at risk. They also serve as important tools for the police to use to conduct periodic checks on activities and statuses of convicted offenders, which can have an impact on reducing rates of recidivism.
In India, the primary purpose of the Registry is to serve as an important accessory to the Criminal Justice system in its fight against CSA and cannot work as magic wand without overall improvement in functioning of the judiciary and the police and comprehensive reforms. The concept of rehabilitation and reintegration of convicted offenders post their release as an idea also needs further pondering. Japan, as another example, runs a successful rehabilitation programs for offenders alongside sex offender registries that has resulted in lower rates of sexual crimes against children. In the Indian context, this sort of rehabilitation will require a coordinated undertaking by the Police and various social rehabilitation groups working towards this cause. This holds a real potential to impact not just crime rates but also the approach we hold to tackling crime and criminals.
The recently introduced POCSO Amendment bill’2017 to the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act’2012 by Member of Parliament from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi is a bill that seeks to push such boundaries in the fight against Child Sexual Abuse. The Bill, introduced in the Winter Session of Parliament proposes establishing a National Child Sex Offenders registry to aid investigation, prevent recidivism and empower police authorities to do their job. The Bill also suggests creating a research division with the specific aim to frame more comprehensive and thoroughly researched laws to tackle CSA, given that this is a multi-dimensional issue and the low data relating to issues like non-reporting of incidents, rates of recidivism in offenders and countless others.
The above article has been authored by Member of Parliament from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi. With assistance from Gopika Mahapatra.