Sociologist researcher and translator working in the development of Human Rights.
India's Rise in Violence and Sexual Abuse
In the past decade, India has been put on the map for being a high-risk place for violence and sexual abuse towards women and children. In the second most populous nation in the world, wealth is unfortunately not distributed equally. The COVID-19 pandemic left India to suffer financially, further increasing the gap between lower and upper classes. Two-thirds of this nation with a population of around 1.3 billion live on less than $2 a day.
With such high poverty rates and a cultural demand to maintain a “good reputation” within one’s community, many times violence and sexual abuse acts are dismissed or are not reported to the authorities for fear of tainting one’s image. This mentality, as well as the low conviction rates of sexual abuse, fuel these human rights abuses, putting thousands in danger year after year.
According to the NGO Equality Now, in 2018 and 2019, there were more than 30,000 reported cases of rape for each year. However, thousands of cases go unreported. An analysis conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) from 2015 - 2016 stated that around 99% of sexual violence cases are not reported—meaning that no one truly knows the actual number of rapes committed within the country. Some of the reasons to this lack of reporting can be explained by corruption amongst law enforcement officials, including failure by the authorities to register sexual abuse cases, as well as having little power when holding a lower-class status (the case for many victims). Furthermore, survivors are often shamed, as well as blamed, by their families and law enforcement for being abused and therefore, fear reporting.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), an organization that conducts statistical reviews on crimes, released a report in 2019 that included rape and sexual offences towards children and adults. According to the report, on average, every 15 - 17 minutes a woman is raped in India. The report went on to note that only around 27% of rape cases result in a conviction, showing the lack of accountability by the perpetrators as well as the faults in the legal system.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code
Rape, sexual abuse and violence are punishable by law in India; however, there is an exception when this pertains to married couples. India is one of 36 countries in the world that does not punish marital rape nor domestic violence—meaning a spouse can legally rape or abuse their partner. According to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, the exception to rape is stated as follows, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife who is above the age of 18, is not sexual assault”.
Due to this loop hole, around 70% of married women are subdued to rape and violence every year—another factor as to why the majority of sexual violence cases go unreported in the country. The NFHS stated that, on average, married women are 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from strangers. According to the UN, one third of all women experience violence or sexual abuse in their lifetime. In 2013, the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) called upon the Indian government to punish marital rape however, the law hasn't changed. In an effort to stop these human rights abuses, the UN Women has called for gender equality and a stop to sexual abuse and violence in all nations by 2030.
Protection of Child from Sexual Offences - POCSO
The Indian government has responded to part of its short-coming by protecting some of the most vulnerable of their nation; children. An example of this is the enactment of the law POCSO (Protection of Child from Sexual Offences). Ratified in 2012, POCSO defines the various acts of sexual assault and offences (including sexual harassment and pornography) committed towards minors under the age of 18, as well as the punishment for each of these crimes. The law also underlines that, in order to guarantee the victims safety and well-being, authorities are to aid the child immediately with the collaboration of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The creation of the POCSO act is a step in the right direction to human rights and shows India’s desire to protect children.
Since the enactment of POCSO, reported sexual child abuse cases have risen. In 2014, Save the Children stated that 8,904 cases were reported to the authorities, and in 2015 this number rose to 14,913. One of the most recent figures, from 2018, shows that 39,827 cases were reported—the majority of this being sexual abuse towards girls . This continuous rise in case reporting could indicate that POCSO is having a positive impact on reporting cases, or that this human rights issue is only worsening within the country. Whatever the reason, the problem needs to be addressed. Data from the NCRB shows that in 2018, on average 109 children were sexually abused daily in India, with many cases still going unreported.
In the last decade, the Indian government and international organizations have created actions towards the elimination of rape and sexual violence towards women and children in India. However, marital rape is still legal within the country and every year there is a rise in the number of children that are sexually abused—of which are primarily females. This human rights abuse is far from being solved; the Indian government must continue to work towards the elimination of these crimes, while also promoting gender equality. Women and children have a voice that should not and cannot be silenced.