A new law in India may help tackle child trafficking. In the wake of high profile child abuse cases, such as the recent Baby Falak tragedy, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 is designed to plug a gap in India’s legal provision. While rape is a serious offence under the Indian Penal Code, the existing laws are totally inadequate in dealing with a range of other sexual crimes that fall short of rape. They fail to differentiate between adults and children, and have no provision whatsoever for sexual offences against boys, despite a government-commissioned 2007 study showing that 53 per cent of children abused were male.
The new Protection of Children legislation lays down severe sentences for those found guilty. Sentences for the most serious forms of sexual assault may range from seven years’ imprisonment up to life, with lesser but still substantial sentences for other sexual assault offences, sexual harassment and using children for pornographic purposes. The same sentences will also apply to abetment; Dalit Freedom Network anticipates that these provisions will be used to charge those responsible for trafficking children for sexual purposes, and may also be used to address the issue of forcing Dalit girls into ritual sex slavery such as the practice of Devadasi or Jogini.
As well as bringing in new offences and legal definitions, the Act is significant for introducing measures to avoid re-victimising children at the hands of insensitive judicial procedures. These include providing children with help and assistance from psycho-social professionals, along with provisions for protecting the child’s identity and for recording a child’s evidence. Procedures are also set out for how the police will deal with victims. In addition, special courts will be established to deal with cases under this legislation.
Although some concern has been expressed in the Indian media about the lack of concession for consensual sex involving 16-18s, the new law has generally been welcomed and applauded. Dr Joseph D’souza, International President of Dalit Freedom Network, comments, “This is a huge step forward for the protection of children in India, and I welcome this long-overdue law. I am particularly pleased that the safety and dignity of children is at the heart of the legislation. It is vital that we protect the most vulnerable in our society. I hope that the same effort will be made in giving exploited Dalit children access to justice, and that they will be treated with the same dignity and respect. I would urge the police and judiciary to do their utmost to ensure that such a good law is enforced enthusiastically and equitably.”
This move, along with recently announced legislation* to tackle the trafficking of children into domestic servitude in India’s capital, shows that authorities are now prioritising child protection measures. In India, the vast majority of children trafficked into the sex industry and domestic labour, as well as into bonded labour and beggar gangs, are Dalits.
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