Protests erupt across India over rape of children
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Protests erupt across India over rape of children

PROTESTS across India have called upon the government to do more to protect girls and women from sexual assault following a string of gruesome rape cases involving children.

Demonstrators called for justice in several cities last week and over the weekend, echoing the mass rallies against sexual violence in 2012 and piling pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has pledged to take action.

In the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram, protesters formed a human chain, while in Mumbai, hundreds, including film celebrities, called for the death penalty for rapists. In New Delhi they called for rape trials to be completed in six months.

Some minority rights campaigners claimed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has failed to respond to “atrocities” perpetrated by right-wing Hindu nationalists, reported The Hindu. They say women are inadequately protected despite the law, and that women members of the government are not speaking out.

SEE ALSO: India has 63 million fewer women than it should have

In the western Gujarati city of Surat, where the latest case took place, men and women held a silent candlelight march. Gujarat is Modi’s home state, where he was the Chief Minister from 2001 until he took national office in 2014.

“The body was recovered on April 6 by the side of a highway and, according to a post mortem report, the girl was sexually assaulted and murdered on April 5,” Surat’s police commissioner, Satish Sharma, told Reuters.

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A woman reacts at a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, in Kathua, near Jammu and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh state, in New Delhi, India April 12, 2018. Source: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

He said the victim – who was 11-years-old according to the post-mortem – had not yet been identified and that police from neighbouring states have been asked to help find her family.

“We have put our best teams in place with all senior police officials. To nab the criminals we first need to identify the body,” Sharma said. The post-mortem revealed the girl had been strangled and smothered, with 86 signs of minor injuries, including sexual assault, he said.

The case of 8-year-old Asifa Bano made headlines in India last week, after right-wing Hindu groups protested the arrest of 8 Hindu men who allegedly drugged, raped and left her for dead. The hashtags #justiceforAsifa and #Kathua have since been trending.

Protesters in the city of Srinagar on Saturday called upon the courts to hand down capital punishment for the men responsible, reported the Kashmir Times.

“[The] guilty should not be spared and justice must be done with the victim, if there would be any delay on part of the government to take Asifa’s case to end we will intensify our protest and block roads,” a protester was quoted as saying.

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A member of a Muslim nomadic tribe in Kashmir, Asifa’s body was found near the city of Kathua on Jan 17. There had been little progress made in the case until activists stepped up their campaign for an investigation.

Asifa’s family has faced threats, her father quoted by The Times of India as saying they were “told that our cattle and houses would be burned down.”

Last week, a lawmaker named Kuldeep Singh Sengar from the BJP was arrested in connection to the abduction and rape of a teenager in the northern State of Uttar Pradesh. It made national headlines after the victim attempted to take her own life on April 8.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating the case.

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A gild holds a placard during a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, near Jammu, in Kochi, India April 15, 2018. Source: Reuters/Sivaram V

SEE ALSO: India: 10-year-old rape victim denied abortion gives birth by C-section

“Let’s not pretend that these are all isolated cases and happened out of the blue,” film actor and director Nandita Das said at the Mumbai protest. “We have brought it upon ourselves as a society and we have to find a solution for it.”

The United Nations is among the international bodies that have condemned the problem.

“We are deeply concerned about the prevalence of gender-based violence, including sexual violence against women and girls, which we are witnessing in India,” Yuri Afanasiev, the UN resident coordinator in India, said in a statement last week.

India registered about 40,000 rape cases in 2016, up from 25,000 in 2012, government data show. Rights activists say thousands more go unreported.

Additional reporting from Reuters.