The girl – the daughter of daily wage workers – was home alone when she was raped, strangled to death and burned, allegedly by a 14-year-old neighbour.

5-yr-old raped killed allegedly by teen in TN What communities can do beyond outrage Image for representation only
news Crime Saturday, February 03, 2018 - 16:42

In a brutal incident, a 5-year-old girl in TN was raped, choked to death and her body burned, allegedly by her 14-year-old neighbour. The brutal crime has put the focus on the need for community led initiatives for child protection across the state.

Nisha* was enrolled into Class 1 at the local anganwadi school in Keelathattaparai village just a few days ago. The youngest child of a couple who worked as daily wage labourers, Nisha used to return from school at 2 pm every day, and was usually alone at home until her older brothers finished school at 5 pm. Her parents, who do odd jobs to make a living, work 20 km away from the house and return late in the evening.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nisha was playing in the neighbourhood, when her neighbour, 14-year-old Deepak*, came along and reportedly took her inside her house. Another child, 7-year-old Prashanth*, was also with them.

Once inside, Deepak reportedly started sexually assaulting Nisha. Prashanth, who witnessed the assault, got scared and ran away, reportedly to inform Nisha’s brothers about what was happening.

Meanwhile, Deepak reportedly raised an alarm, claiming to the neighbours that there was a fire at Nisha’s house. When the neighbours went over to see what had happened, Nisha was burnt.

When the police went to investigate the scene of the crime, they questioned Deepak on the basis of Prashanth’s statement. Deepak confessed to killing Nisha, according to the police.

Speaking to TNM, Pudukottai Inspector Santha Kumari reveals, “The boy had strangled Nisha to death with a towel. To cover up the crime, he poured a little bit of kerosene over her face and neck and burnt her to death. He then started screaming that there was a fire and alerted the neighbours.”

Deepak has been admitted to a juvenile home. The police have booked him for murder as well as destruction of evidence among others.

The shocking case has put the focus once again on the vulnerability of children who stay alone while their parents are at work, and also the need to ensure that children don’t engage in violence, and sexually harmful and aggressive behaviour.

The need for community-based after school care

Vidya Reddy of Tulir, a Chennai-based NGO working against child sexual abuse, says that there is a need to have community driven systems of after-school child care.

This doesn't mean however that parents should not work. “In the aftermath of the Sherin Mathews case, the Texas government in the US is mulling over a law in the three-year-old's name which would make it a felony to leave a child below eight years alone at home. But targeting working parents is hardly the solution,” Vidya argues.

She points out the example of Vietnam, where after school care is done by a group of people who come into the school premises after school hours at 2 pm. And until the parents are done with work, they host a number of workshops and activities for them in the premises.

However simply demanding these facilities from the state will not solve anything. "The problem with simply demanding after school care from the state is that there’s no guarantee of child protection safeguards in state institutions as well,” Vidya says.

The ideal solution then, is to have community driven initiatives for after school child care.

“Every family has a stake in ensuring their child’s safety. It has to come from the community. A resettlement colony in Kannagi Nagar for instance, has a collective of grandmothers in the community who have come together to take care of the children after they return from school. Similarly, you can ask the state to provide logistical support – a physical space, nutritional snacks, toys and art supplies, for instance. But it’s the communities which must come up with a model to safeguard their children,” Vidya says.

Jayadas of the Thoothukudi Child Welfare Committee also stresses on the need for community led initiatives that the government actively encourages and promotes.

"After school hours, community volunteers could take over from teachers at an anganwadi or palwadi school. These trained community volunteers would provide childcare till the parents can return from their daily wage jobs," he says.

However, Jayadas insists that this should not be restricted to government schools alone. He says all schools should take this up for the safety and security of the children.

Exposed to sexual imagery, but unable to process it

This is not the first case of a minor committing a violent sexual crime. What is making children today commit such sexual violence is an elaborate issue in itself. In this case however, Vidya suspects that the 14-year-old got curious after viewing pornography and committed the crime.

Vidya Reddy says sexually harmful behaviour in minors can be classified into four categories: inappropriate, sexually reactive, sexually harmful, and sexually aggressive.

As TNM reported earlier: "Think of inappropriate behaviour as when young boys have peeing contests, or pull girls’ clothes. While it is inappropriate, they do not act with a sexual intent. An example of sexually aggressive behaviour was exhibited by the minor accused in Jyoti Singh’s gangrape on December 16, 2012. Meanwhile the minors who systematically sodomised a class 6 student after a fight in 2015 behaved in a sexually harmful manner."

The case of a five-year-old in Delhi accused of sexually assaulting his four-year-old classmate in November 2017 can be classified as sexually reactive, where he was acting and/or re-enacting an experience or something he witnessed.

In the recent Tamil Nadu case, while nothing takes away from the brutality of what Deepak did, it is important to remember that children grow up in a highly sexualised environment today without the means or wherewithal to process the sensory overload and sexual imagery in media they are bombarded with, Vidya says.

"Given that this was a teenager, his behaviour can be classified as ‘sexually harmful’,” she adds.

*Names changed