Meghalaya: Increasing sexual offences – What makes children easy ‘targets’?
SHILLONG, Jul 3, 2017: A broken home, a disorganised family life can invite a predator to prey on the weak and vulnerable and children often end up as victims.
Why crime against Children in the state is on the rise? An analysis shows that the minor victims of sexual abuse and molestation are often children belonging to broken families.
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS
According to Superintendent of Police (City) East Khasi Hills Vivek Syiem, most of the rape cases & crime against children are reported from sub-urban and rural areas. "When we look at the pattern of rape being committed, we see more in sub urban and rural areas. Lack of social cohesion, broken homes, single parents can be attributed to the increase in crime against children," Syiem said.
Elaborating on the subject, Syiem said that children who come from unorganised families and broken homes are vulnerable to such crimes. "Most often the neighbours or relatives would prey on the helpless child," he said.
Furthermore, Syiem informed the perpetrators of such crimes are often known to the victims. "We have seen in most cases that the accused person often turns out to be the victim's uncle, cousin or neighbour," added Syiem.
Last month, two girls (sisters) were raped couple of times by their maternal uncle at Mawngap two years after their mother died. The father was not living with the girls when the crime was committed. This incident happened right under the nose of the girls' grandmother. The uncle who was staying together in the same house took advantage of the fragile situation and made the girls his victims for many years. The accused person who was in hiding has been arrested by the police recently and the girls have been lodged in a shelter home to protect them from family feuds.
A look at the police statistics show that as many as 104 cases of crime against children were reported in the state from January till April, 2017, the largest chunk being cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).
As per the statistics, from Jan till April, 2017 as many as 80 cases have been registered under POCSO Act.
Here is a statistics of the total crime against children committed from Jan-April 2017
In the past 10 years, the number of cases registered shows an upward trend which is a matter of concern for many. From 2007 till 2016, the number of cases of crime against children registered in the state is 1414. The year which saw the highest number of cases was 2016 where a total of 204 cases while the lowest was in 2008 with only 62 cases.
This table below will give you a clearer picture of the cases registered from 2007 till 2016
AN INCREASING TREND – EXPLANATION
While it is clear from the police statistics that as the years go by, the number of cases registered also increases except in 2008 when the number is less as compared to the previous year – 2007 when the cases reported was 71.
According to Superintendent of Police East Khasi Hills, Davis NR Marak told TNT –The Northeast Today that in the past, people are not much aware of the law and most often crimes like rape and harassment go unreported.
But over the years, legal awareness has seeped in and people no longer rely on local dorbars' decisions on such matters, though the same is still prevalent in some rural villages. When such crimes are committed, people are not hesitated to come to the police station and register a case. "That is why we see an increase in the number of reported cases of rape of a minor," Marak said.
"Earlier, people were not of the gravity of the situation and the offence but now people are more educated. Earlier, when such cases are reported in the village, the local headmen would settle the issue in the village committee and the matter was compromised and the case goes unreported. But now, things have changed. With time, people are encouraged to report the same to the police and take legal aid," asserted the district police chief.
WHY LOCAL DORBAR'S INTERFERENCE IN SUCH CASES IS A CRIME
It is a disturbing trend to see how criminal acts are often sorted out through compromises arranged by none other than the locality leaders who assumed that reporting the same to the police would only put the locality in bad light.
It wasn't long ago when a village headman was arrested for allegedly trying to suppress a gang rape case at Mawryngkneng village, just few kilometres away from Shillong city. The Sordar and locality head of Mawryngkneng Mawmang were alleged of hiding the crime under the carpet by shielding the six persons who were accused of gang-raping a 17 year old girl on the night of January 1, 2017. It was informed that the victim's family were called by the Sordar to compromise on the matter on January 2 and 3. On both days, the perpetrators were present.
"Often in villages, the cases are suppressed either by the village heads or the family members themselves. But with time, we have been able to break through such mindset of the people and we now see people coming out to report such crimes," SP (City) Vivek Syiem said.
"People should understand that suppressing and compounding such cases is a crime because rape is not a compoundable offence.
TECNOLOGY IS ALSO TO BE BLAMED
Technology also brought along with it the dark fantasy to virtually engage oneself in images and videos unsuitable to children which, if kept unchecked, can influence young minds who won't hesitate on transforming that fantasy into a reality, at the cost of innocence.
The easy access to internet on the mobile phones is a perhaps the negative side effect of technological advancement. "Juveniles are often bewildered by the easy access to sites not suitable to them and tend to replicate the same on their victims," said the SP (City) while calling upon the parent to be more careful.
HOW TO HANDLE A POCSO CASE
With the increase in crime against children in the state, the police have taken up measures to tackle this problem while maintaining that POCSO cases are treated as special cases.
As per statistics, as many as 80 POCSO cases were registered from January till April 2017. "This is a serious concern. We treat these cases in a special manner and we monitor them till the cases are charge-sheeted," EKH SP, Davis Marak said.
"We have made it clear to all the officers concerned that the investigation must be in-sync with POCSO Act and needs to be treated as a special case. We try to expedite the cases at the earliest and to ensure that the trails are being done more expeditiously," Marak added.
HOW TO HANDLE CASES INVOLVING A JUVENILE
There were debates after debates on how to deal with juveniles accused of committing a heinous crime such as rape and murder. Not forgetting that one of the six convicts in the Nirbhaya Case (Delhi) was a juvenile when he committed the crime way back on December 16, 2012. He escaped death sentence and unlike the four convicts, he now has settled well in his new life, according to a report in the Hindustan Times. He is cooking at a prominent restaurant. The minor has turned 23 years old now.
Controversies hover around the subject. But the debates still go on.
"These cases are sensitive; however, elaborate actions are taken because these are the children who are in need of care and protection. We handle these cases very judiciously," Marak said.
"We have formed committees and recently, we have re-constituted a committee with the new JJ Act in place where the officer Dy SP is to head a committee of which they will be known as Child Welfare Protection Officers," EKH SP, Davis Marak said.
Confessing that the state police do faces shortage of women officers, Marak said that due to the shortage of women officers, they were forced to nominate an second Investigating Officer (IO) as the CWPO in most police stations to handle crime against children and crime involving juveniles.
"The gravity of the cases must be understood by every police officer down to the district and block level which is why we have meetings from time to time to make them aware. In as far as investigation is concerned, proper instructions are given and there are some sections where we conduct special investigations because we have to keep the JJ Act in mind," the SP said.
Considering the act as more of a reformative approach, Marak said "We are in the process of re- arranging police system to be in-sync with the JJ Act. We are training our officers to be more effective and we require a responsive, re-oriented and re-concerted effort of all the stakeholders."
(By Ibankyntiew Mawrie — The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)