The high courts in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana have ruled that for crimes like sexual abuse of girls below the age of 12, death penalty should be the punishment. There seems to be a suggestion that we can prevent crimes by ensuring severity in punishment.
Mostly, whenever there is a case reported, social media is abuzz with angry reactions asking for a variety of methods – right from castration to death. Some go to the extent of suggesting that the child sexual offenders should be raped so that they feel what exactly a rape survivor, child or adult goes through. The anger, however justified at that moment, is reactionary and may fade in a few days. What would remain, however, are scores of survivors as statistical figures go up and down in the crime graph.
With the courts of three major states taking a stance in favour of the death penalty, it makes it imperative to understand if this is really a deterrent. Before arriving at a point of agreement, it would be wise to research other nations.
Is Death an Effective Deterrent?
Let’s look at our neighbours who are just one day older than us as a republic. Early this year, a 7-year-old girl, Zainab Ansari, was raped and murdered in Pakistan. The rapist was identified and sentenced to death. Pakistan has had the death penalty since its independence as a nation. Technically, a country just a day older than ours should have reduced the incidence of such offences. Maya Pastakia, a Pakistan campaigner for Amnesty International thinks otherwise.
She tells BBC:
But there is no compelling evidence that the death penalty will act as a particular deterrent over and above any other form of punishment. A suicide bomber won’t be deterred by the death penalty.
Let’s go a little further, to The United States of America – a land of diversity like ours. Here, each of the states have their own unique laws.
According to a statistical data analysis report, with and without the death penalty, the murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty.
Looking at the above research, one could assume that the death penalty may not have all that much to do with reduction in crime. In our nation, we award the death penalty in the rarest of rare cases. Now in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana, it will be extended to child sexual abusers of girls below the age of 12. Geeta Bhukkal and Kiran Chaudhary, from the Indian National Congress in Haryana, even suggested that the cap of 12 years should be removed as rape in itself is a crime against humanity. The challenge is that they chose to use death penalty to echo the popular sentiment of retribution, instead of basing their demands on hardcore research.
Speaking specifically about India, first, let’s ask ourselves the question – can ‘fear’ of crimes reduce or stop them?
The Family Web
Abuse rates could lower if we have a culture that respects ‘behaviour’ more than age or position. Respecting the young should be as much our culture as respecting the old is. Reciprocal respect is what needs to be taught. And we should encourage everyone around us to report any violations in this regard.
Let’s remember that there is scores and scores of data that proves that abusers are mostly within the family. This research finding clearly states, “One-fifth to half of the country's population might have faced some form of sexual abuse at least once in their life, but these may not include the children (1 in 5) who do not reveal their sexual abuse from within or outside their family.”
Table 1 of this research paper published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care clearly states that it is the “uncle” who is often the abuser. We should also note that when we teach our young to respect the old, we should not put the latter on a pedestal to the extent that they have the leverage to turn into abusers. Respect is a two-way street.
Boys Do Cry
Don’t let bias breed. This is not a gender debate, but statistics reveal that boys get more abused than girls.
This is a study by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare from the year 2007. However, the focus seems to be more on the girls because it serves the narrative of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and other measures by the government. Boys do cry. Boys are vulnerable. It is our societal prejudices that presume boys as the protector and girls as the ones who need to be protected that add to challenges for boys. POCSO (Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences Act 2012) is a gender agnostic law, this is an attempt to dilute it and to add the colour of politics to it. We need to focus not just on the beti, it is the beta as well.
Cops Can Be Friendly
Children need to be encouraged to report. We need to familiarise children with the police.
There needs to be a measure to ensure that reporting of such a crime is quick. A lot of damage has been done due to films regarding the image of police officers. Children need to be encouraged to visit police stations and learn about FIRs so that if such an incident were to happen, they would be in no fear of trusting the police. We need to break the hostility. We need to make more films showing the empathetic side of police officers and encourage kindness.
Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied
We need to ensure speedy justice in cases of child sexual abuse.
Our nation should offer enough chances for the accused to prove his/her innocence. The sense of closure, though, would be only when we hear cases in a timely manner. Member of Parliament Rajeev Chandrashekhar, in a blog, writes that “This is despite section 35 (2) of the POCSO Act stipulating a period of one year for courts to dispose off with a case. Convictions, too, remain a concern – over the last two years, I have learned that of the 6,816 alleged perpetrators booked under the POCSO Act, only 166 convictions have been made, while 389 accused have been acquitted. The conviction rate under the act, therefore, is a paltry 2.4%.”
Evidence Is Key
There are procedures to be followed. And they should be followed to ensure that the investigative process doesn’t end up losing evidence.
Swati Maliwal, the chief of Delhi Child and Women Welfare, tells The Indian Express that in October 2015, as many as 7,500 forensic reports were pending. Considering that children sometimes take a while to recollect, there needs to be immediate videography, in child-friendly police stations, to understand the nuances of body language and expression. We still lack such facilities.
We are still a nation where an average joe can threaten the police with a “tu jaanta nahi mera baap kaun hai”, why would people in power who abuse the same be at all scared?
Just by giving in to the public sentiment of “avenging” a child’s rape with death will not ensure that the sexual abuse of children reduces. It takes hard work and commitment over a period of time with several tools – school reform, sex and sexuality education, video recording facilities, having a psychiatrist on board, ensuring arrests and speedy – all of which could help bring down the rates of child sexual abuse. I am not even getting into the moral issue of death sentence – but if research is anything to go by, pandering to the masses with a death penalty will not have any effect on CSA cases. It may be a good marketing strategy for getting votes, though.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children, and animals. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
(The Quint has given up the use of plastic plates and spoons. This Earth Hour, what will you #GiveUp to save the planet? Use the hashtag #GiveUp and tag @TheQuint to tell us.)