Kailash Satyarthi after Kathua case: Treat child rape as “national emergency”

Child rights activist and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi tells NH that increasing cases of sexual violence against children and related case pendency should be treated as a national emergency

File photo of Kailash Satyarthi
File photo of Kailash Satyarthi

Bhasha Singh

Child rights activist and Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi told National Herald on Tuesday that as far as increasing cases of sexual violence against children is concerned, it’s almost a “state of emergency” in the country and suggests a national response in equal measure. Satyarthi spoke after the Kailash Satyarthi Children Foundation released a report ‘The Children Cannot Wait’ on Tuesday. At a time when the entire country is demanding justice for the brutally raped and murdered 8-year-old girl in Kathua, J&K, the report uncovers some shocking facts, based on government figures. About 1 lakh cases of violence against children are pending, up till 2016. According to this report—if there is no further case registered under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) after 2016—it will take 55 years in getting justice in the cases of child rape pending in Gujarat alone. This means, if a child has been raped in 2016, then he or she will get justice in 2071. In the same manner in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan it will take a child 8 years to get justice, in Delhi and Bihar 11 years, in Maharashtra 14 years and in West Bengal, about 17 years.

Excerpts from Satyarthi’s interview with National Herald’s Bhasha Singh:

How do you view the protests triggered by incidents of rapes in Kathua and Unnao? People seem to be really angry.

Look, almost 1.2 million people walked with me during my 11,000-km nationwide march six months ago. The numbers reflected that there was seething anger in students, parents, teachers and the public in general. The participants believed that such incidents must not be happening in our country.

I would say that the current situation in the country is a state of national emergency. There should be a national response in equal measure.  I suggest that an entire day's of work of Parliament must be dedicated to discussing issues of children. There should also be a national framework for children. All cases involving sexual violence of any sort against children must be investigated in a timely manner and brought to a conclusion at the earliest. The government should invest as much as needed in enhancing security for minors in the country.

Who is responsible for the low conviction rates in cases involving sexual violence (against children)? Why do you think justice in such cases is not dispensed in a timely manner?

A big dilemma that the Indian society faces is that children are not politically important. While we talk about child welfare, they do not even hold any religious significance in our country. If child welfare were a priority in India, we would have institutions which would reflect the mindset. I have been demanding that there should be courts across the country exclusively for cases involving children.

I believe that such an initiative would be a huge psychological boost for the victims. They would stop being scared of the legal system. Such courts would help in building trust between the victims and the government, law, society and our leaders.

These dedicated courts would also help in instilling fear in the minds of the accused, which at present is missing. Many people who commit such dastardly acts believe that they could get away with just anything. Under the current system, cases drag on for decades until reaching a conclusion. Even parents start to lose interest and faith in the justice system when it takes inordinately long to bring the culprits to book. The child victim themselves start losing interest in court's power to deliver justice over a period of time, as they grow up and settle into their adult lives.

What would your message to be those who are backing the accused who raped the eight-year old girl in Kathua? They are politically powerful and are challenging the narrative of the local administration, the law and the society, in general.

Look, now the Supreme Court has intervened and warned that nobody has the right to obstruct the wheels of justice from moving. I believe everyone must come together and stand behind the law. No one should politicise the deaths of children.

Politicians should focus on winning over the next generatons, rather than next elections.

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