About 1,500 survivors of sexual violence have signed a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, asking him to widen the scope of his recent suo motu case on child rapes in India so as to consider the lakhs of child commercial sexual exploitation cases as “serial rape of children” and not just child prostitution.
The letter, submitted to the apex court on Friday, points out that cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children and sex trafficking are nothing but repeated rape of children. And yet, data available from six states show that police do not press charges against the accused under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO). Instead, they book them under the less severe anti-trafficking law Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1986. This incongruity in law enforcement exists even as under law, any sexual act with a minor is rape, with the Supreme Court ruling in 2017 stating that even sexual intercourse between a man and his under-18 wife amounts to rape.
The letter, sent under the banner of Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan, a survivor forum and an alliance of 30 organisations working on the issue, also points to the fact that POCSO “provides better safeguard, rehabilitation and compensation for the victims”. As per an UNICEF report of 2001, up to 4 lakh children are forced into prostitution in India’s metropolitan cities alone. Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan estimate the numbers to be far higher at 10 lakh across the country.
Among the signatories of the letter sent to the CJI is Bhanwari Devi, the activist who was sexually violated by upper caste men in 1992 in response to her attempt to prevent child marriage in her village in Rajasthan. Bhanwari Devi, who has since been instrumental for the enactment of the law to prevent sexual harassment of women at workplace, said, “In the last 25 years, I have seen very little change in the condition of rape survivors. Much of the hurdles faced by them remain the same. The only difference is that earlier the cases in hospitals were mostly that of women but in recent years, I see so many child victims of rape.”