As India reels from the recent Delhi gang-rape case, demanding strict punishment and speedy trial in cases of sexual assault against women, a fast-track court in Katihar district of northern Indian state Bihar awarded death sentence to a man convicted of raping and murdering his three-year-old niece after a six-day trial. The news hogged the headlines and was notable for the swift action and speedy verdict, but the real issue once again got buried somewhere deep inside – the rising incidents of child sex abuse in the country.

The second such horrible story which shook the country came from the central Indian state Chhatisarh, where over three dozen school children were abused for months by none else but the administrator and a colleague in the school. The traumatized little girls, mostly tribal, reportedly couldn’t muster the courage to complain until the pain became unbearable.

Pic: AP.

Even though child sex abuse cases are rarely reported to the police, every third rape case appearing in media today in the state involves child sex abuse. “They are the most vulnerable section of sexual abuse victims,” says young criminal lawyer of Patna High Court, Mukesh Kant. Kant also says that most child sexual abuse cases go unreported because of the social stigma attached.

Bihar-based social scientist Mr Shreekant, who earlier was a prominent media figure in the state, too agrees that “only 30 per cent of the child sex abuse cases come into the media for various social reasons”. Another important element of such sexual abuses is that in most of the cases close or immediate family members and neighbors are the offenders and that also comes as a major deterrent for reporting the cases, says the veteran social scientist.

In its recent report Human Rights Watch pointed out there are no statistics on the number of child abuse cases in India, primarily because of the low reporting of such cases.

After the recent horrible gang-rape and murder of a medical student in Delhi the Indian government set up a judicial commission led by former chief justice of India, Justice J S Verma. Recently the commission submitted its report with special focus on the high incidents of child sexual abuse and the failure of the government to ensure the implementation of child protection laws.

Human Rights Watch also said that such sexual abuse cases are disturbingly common and government responses are falling short in protecting children and in treating victims.

The report has urged the Indian government to “ensure rigorous implementation of child protection laws and strict monitoring of child care facilities”.

But social scientists and activists working for child protection say that until the society changes its attitudes towards such rampant abuse cases the problem will not solved. Laws alone cannot prevent children from being sexually exploited, society must come forward with a sensitive approach towards it, believes Dheeraj Kumar, who has worked for the “Bachapan Bachao Andolan” [save children] organization.

Bihar has one of the worst child sexual abuse records in India. Illiteracy and lawlessness is rife so most cases fail to come on surface for fear of legal-social harassment, informs Dheeraj Kumar. The brutal reality is that the victims are often children who are either abandoned or orphaned and living life on railway stations, bus stops and restaurants.

“They are subjected to regular sexual abuse but nobody cares,” says Manoj Kumar, a restaurant owner, adding that it becomes very difficult to keep these children under observation all the time. We must encourage children to speak out and protect them from their trauma, otherwise this heinous crime will keep flourishing in our society.

To prevent such sexual offences families should become the first unit to keep watchful eye on the movement of those loitering around their child, believes social scientist, Shreekant.

The family comes first, and then comes the law and its execution – this is a common belief in Indian society. But the executive and the judiciary must not shy away from their responsibilities and the sooner this is done, the better it will be for the protection of the children being sexually exploited in this country.