Pandemic, Isolation and the Fear of Survival; Increased Risk of Child Abuse
Prakhar Shukla, Associate - Rights and Partnership Program
The nation is at standstill, we have no other option but to stay at home for the greater good, the idea that home is the safest place for every one of us is being understood by almost everyone.
Home is the safest place for everyone; it is true, as only the lockdown can help us to overcome the situation but does the lockdown mean that you are entitled to break the laws? Does the lockdown mean that the people have sacrificed their rights and are ready to be a victim of yours?
No, this cannot be a case in any situation. While India continues its fight against the novel virus amid nationwide lockdown, the reports of domestic violence and child abuse have shown a rising trend recently.
The number of complains went up very rapidly as more and more children are being subjected to torture and abuse.
In a sobering reminder that boredom is the least of our issues during the lockdown, a recent report says the government’s childline helpline has received more than 92,000 SOS calls in the last 11 days asking for protection from abuse and violence. The report refers to the government’s “CHILDLINE 1098” helpline and includes only cases from the first week that the lockdown was in effect — March 20-31. Still, there have been over 3 lakh calls made to the helpline, of which a staggering 30 per cent related to child abuse and violence.
The sudden spike in the cases has urged the lawyers of the country to write a letter to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde requesting him to take suo motu (on its own) cognizance of increase in the number of child abuse cases during the ongoing nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The letter stated:
"Under normal circumstances, it is not considered safe for abused children to stay at home as it might result in further suffering at the hands of their own family members. However, during the lockdown, the danger to these children is exacerbated, as they are unable to leave their homes. The isolation has further shattered support networks, making it even more difficult for the victims to seek help or escape,"
It said child abuse incidents have already risen in India due to the lockdown and will keep increasing if steps are not taken immediately to protect and support the victims of child abuse.
"This Court is, therefore, requested to take cognizance of the issue of protecting the rights of children and their safety in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The need of the hour is to issue guidelines to various authorities for protecting children from violence and abuse, which is inflicted upon them by their own family members/ relatives/care takers, taking measures to ensure that counselling is made available to them. The NGOs/ Organizations which work in the field of child welfare need to be mobilized at this time of child abuse pandemic. Hence the present letter petition,"
"It was further stated that the number of calls has increased by 50 per cent since March 24, 2020, i.e. the day of imposition of lockdown. It is further stated that confinement is fostering tension and strain created by security, health, and money issues. This sudden surge in the number of such incidents which are being reported and those which go unreported is not confined to India, as per various reports in international dailies, The letter said that the person committing the abuse is putting in danger the life of a child, and clearly violating the fundamental right of life and the right to live with dignity of that child, which is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution of India as held by this court in a plethora of cases.
Further In a report Published by “The Hindu” it stated Most online content on child sexual abuse from India, In a global compilation of reports of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) found online, India stands right on top of the list, with 11.7% of the total reports or at 19.87 lakh reports, followed by Pakistan, which contributes 6.8% of all reports (11.5 lakh reports). Bangladesh comes in fourth with 5.5 lakh reports and a share of 3.3%.
What is more alarming is the cases are not specific to a single area rather there are cases from various regions of the country. Metros like New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai, besides many Tier II and capital cities, which are seeing a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, have been red-flagged.
Chennai kids at risk as demand for child porn spikes during COVID-19 lockdown. Chennai is among the cities with a high demand for child sexual abuse material, posing grave risks to its children during the COVID-induced lockdown, according to a study of child pornography demand in 100 cities in India by the Indian Child Protection Fund (ICPF).
Throwing some light on the rights available and the provisions especially for children:
The children constitute the most vulnerable section of society in India. The socio-economic conditions are mainly responsible for the violation of child rights in different forms. The Indian Constitution accords the rights to children as citizens of the country. The Constitution encompasses most of the rights of the children included in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child under the headings of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy.
The ‘rights of children’, is one area on which the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has tried to focus continuously ever since it was constituted in October 1993. It observed from the very beginning that despite there being major provisions in the Constitution of India for survival, development and protection of children as well as laws to safeguard their interests including the fact that the Government of India had ratified the CRC, children all over the country, especially those belonging to weaker sections of the society, were found to be vulnerable and their dignity and human rights were often trampled.
Some general principles
Right to equality (Article 14 of the constitution of India): The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” The said Article is clearly in two parts – while it commands the State not to deny to any person ‘equality before law’, it also commands the State not to deny the ‘equal protection of the laws’.Equality, as guaranteed in our Constitution, not only conceives of providing formal equality but also to provide for real and absolute equality.
Right against discrimination( Article 15 of the constitution of India): Article 15 is an instance and particular application of the right of equality provided for in Article 14. While Article 14 guarantees the general right, Articles 15 and 16 are instances of the same right in favour of citizens in some special circumstances ( Dasaratha v. State of A.P., AIR 1961 SC 564) .
Right to life and personal liberty ( Article 21 of the constitution of India): “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. It is the most fundamental of human rights, and recognizes the sanctity of human life.The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in Kharak Singh v. State of UP, held, with respect to ‘personal liberty’, held:“We feel unable to hold that the term was intended to bear only this narrow interpretation but on the other hand consider that “personal liberty” is used in the Article as a compendious term to include within itself all the varieties of rights which go to make up the “personal liberties” of man other than those dealt with in the several clauses of Article 19 (1). In other words, while Article 19(1) deals with particular species or attributes of that freedom, “personal liberty” in Article 21 takes in and comprises the residue.” In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India the court held: “The expression “personal liberty” in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have been raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19.”
Prohibition in the employment of children in factories, etc. (Article 24 of the constitution of India): “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment” In the case of M.C. Mehta v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Hon’ble Supreme Court took judicial notice of child labour in Sivakasi, where the provisions of Article 24 were being violated. It was held that abolition of child labour is definitely a matter of great public concern and importance. Poverty was held to be the driving force behind the evil of child labour.These are a part of Fundamental rights provided for every citizen of India and hence childrens are equally entitled to these.
Constitutional Guarantees specific for children:
Right to free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the 6-14 year age group ( Article 21 A of the constitution of India). The right to education has also been held to be a part of Article 21. Unnikrishnan J.P. v. State of A.P, culminated in an amendment to the Constitution being moved in 1997, leading to the incorporation of Article 21-A.
Right to be protected from being abused and forced by economic necessity to enter occupations unsuited to their age or strength (Article 39(e) of the constitution of India).
Right to equal opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and guaranteed protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment (Article 39(f) of the Constitution of India) .
Right to early childhood care and education to all children until they complete the age of six years (Article 45 of the constitution of India).
Points 2-4 falls within the ambit of part IV of The constitution of India which represents the Directive principle of state policy, though these are not enforceable but these are the guidelines for the states which they have to adhere to while formulating policies and enacting laws.
The matter of question is that are we following all of these, if yes then why there is sudden spike in the cases of child abuse during the lockdown. During lockdown, everyone is primarily focusing on social and economic problems, but it’s important to bring issues related to mental health and abuse to the forefront.
Poor mental health of parents, unavailability of alcohol during lockdown, poor economic conditions, unemployment and frustration over not being able to step out are some of the reasons for the spike in child abuse during the lockdown. Parents tend to displace their frustrations onto their children through various forms of abuse.
“93 percent of abuse happens by someone known to the child. This is a terrifying number for the lockdown.” In a new report released, India’s dark underbelly lies exposed in the lockdown. The data shows that a “significant segment of this spike in pornography can be attributed to the demand for child pornography content.”
What is important is to monitor the Mental Health & Physical Safety for Children. The post-lockdown impact could see a rise in bonded labour and child trafficking and so urgent action - like passing the anti-tracking bill in Parliament is vital. What’s needed is more specific action focussed on child protection, and more cross-pollination between civil societies and government bodies to achieve widespread results.
Prakhar Shukla, is a native of Jabalpur, M.P. He is currently pursuing law and holds several internship experiences under senior advocates in India.Prakhar is interested in contributing towards upliftment of the underprivileged section of the society.