The MP has initiated a Change.Org petition to urge government to come up with better response

It is time to protect our children Bengaluru
Blog Saturday, October 31, 2015 - 12:37

By Rajeev Chandrasekhar

In all my time as a Member of Parliament and parent I had, until late last year, never imagined that Child Sexual Abuse, and the safety of our children would prove to be one of our biggest governance and public policy challenges. It was after the distraught parents of a child approached me for support in July last year, that my eyes were opened to this menace.  While Child Sexual Abuse is itself an unconscionable assault on innocent children, the problem is severely compounded by the poor institutional response.

Since July last year, a slew of such cases have been reported from across Karnataka and other states – leading to even the Delhi High Court and the Madras High Court to acknowledge that the problem has reached epidemic proportions. This is why I have started a change.org petition to request the Hon’ble Prime Minister himself to commit to a roadmap to end Child Sexual Abuse.

What concerns me, however, is the apathy and indifference of the Karnataka government. Soon after the first spate of incidents were reported from Bangalore last year, chief minister Siddaramaiah received a range of responses from NGOs, worried parents of schoolchildren, and myself, to enact changes like background verification of all personnel who come into contact with children at schools and to ensure speedy justice when it comes to dealing with such cases by the court. I had specifically written to him outlining a course of action to be taken to prevent these crimes including better regulation of schools, with cleaner guidelines. Very little action was taken: a tokenistic announcement of a Child Sex Offenders registry was made, and is yet to be implemented. Due to a lack of tangible actions, children continued to be victimised.

On 16th October two toddlers were brutally gang-raped in Delhi – the details that emerged were reminiscent of the 2013 Delhi gang-rape – with the child sustaining injuries in her intestines. No longer can the Government maintain its silence. Action is required, and the issue needs to be addressed by the political leadership of the country urgently.

This is a fight which cannot be fought alone. This is an issue which has not been discussed widely, and it must be. It requires the voice of every citizen to come together to be heard. I have pledged to take this issue to the top and fight this till the very end. About a month ago, I launched a petition on Change.orgto commit this Government to ensuring the safety of our children as its absolute priority and it has received an overwhelming response of over 1,21,000 signatures in less than a month, and the support is growing.

We can no longer deny the pervasiveness of the problem.  Support for the petition has poured in from all quarter. Renowned NGOs which have extensively worked on the problem, like BachpanBachaoAndolan, Aarambh India, and HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, have extended their support for the petition and the changes that it might bring.The time to act on this is now. I have learned that 8 children in India are sexually abused every day, and these form only the reported cases. I have also learnt that every fifth child in India is subject to more brutal forms of abuse, including penetrative sexual assault. Waiting for this statistic to rise while the Government does nothing goes against my very ethos as a lawmaker, as a citizen, as a father.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), has been poorly implemented.The conviction rate under POCSO is at an abysmal 2.4%. This is stark particularly in light of the fact that studies show that the chances of reoffending are high and that crimes against children have risen 400%. Even a judgment this week by the Madras High Court highlights the inefficacy of the law being unable to address this epidemic.

These are not numbers we can live with. They point to a sobering reality our children live with, and must be acknowledged and urgently dealt with. An immediate, exhaustive study is required to find the depth of this menace before designing a structure which aims to solve it. A comprehensive, national roadmap needs to be set out with timelines by the Government with the participation of all of essential stakeholders like the judiciary and child rights activists at each step. This roadmap must address the full extent of abuses against children, including child sex trafficking, tourists scouting for sex with minors and child pornography. Institutions which come into contact with children, like schools and orphanages must be thoroughly monitored to ensure a safe environment for our children. These actions form the mainstay of my petition to the Prime Minister, and I would urge every one of you to support it.

Our children deserve a happy and fulfilling childhood. Child Sexual Abuse is a form of terrorism that destroys the psychological ability of a child to participate in society in a functional and productive manner. These crimes against children can be prevented if the Government acts on the recommendations made by the petition and if we speak up together. Let us make our Bengaluru a city which is safe for our children once again.

Sign the Petition on www.change.org/ProtectOurChildren

(The author is a Member of Parliament and Technology Entrepreneur)

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