India needs to tighten child-protection laws and improve oversight of orphanages to curb sexual abuse of minors amid soul-searching over the scale of rape and assault in the country, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Sexual abuse is widespread in homes, schools and residential care facilities in India, the investigation found, and existing child protection programs fail the most vulnerable. More than 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year, while many more cases go unreported, the New York-based advocacy group said in its 82-page report, citing previous studies and its own research.
“India’s system to combat child sexual abuse is inadequate because government mechanisms fail to ensure the protection of children,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Children who bravely complain of sexual abuse are often dismissed or ignored by the police, medical staff, and other authorities.”
A brutal attack on a medical student aboard a moving bus in the south of India’s capital, New Delhi, on Dec. 16 shocked the nation and reverberated around the world. The gang rape of the woman -- who died from her injuries a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital -- triggered street protests and spurred calls for swifter and harsher punishments for sexual assaults.
Responding to the public furor and recommendations drafted by a panel of former judges, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration pushed through changes to the criminal code without waiting for parliament’s assent.
The trial of five men charged with conspiracy to abduct the 23-year-old woman, sexually assault and murder her, started Feb. 5 in a fast-track court in New Delhi. A sixth accused has been judged to be a juvenile and is facing a separate judicial process. All have pleaded not guilty.
In a case that an official of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights described as “insane,” the Human Rights Watch report details systematic abuse of orphans and other children at a residential care facility in Haryana state, next to the capital.
Girls were made to have sex with strangers for money, while the son-in-law of the home’s director had molested children, according to the report. The commission’s investigation team were told children were suspended from ceiling fans as punishment.
Poor awareness, social stigma and negligence across society increase the suffering of many of India’s children, the group said in its report. India is home to 430 million children, about one in five of all under-18s in the world.
The rights group said that greater efforts must be made to make sure the guilty are punished. Government agencies charged with protecting children need greater resources, and all institutions housing juveniles must be routinely and thoroughly inspected, the report concluded. Medical staff responding to accusations of sexual abuse should be trained to minimize invasive examinations.