NCRB 2021 data: 24% hike in child sexual abuse cases in 5 South India states; Tamil Nadu 4th in India

The report comes at a time when the chief pontiff of the Murugha Matha in Karnataka is accused of the sexual abuse of two minor girls.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Sep 04, 2022 | 6:20 PMUpdatedSep 04, 2022 | 11:00 PM

The men took the model with them on the pretext of dropping her off at her residence. (Creative Commons)

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2021 has shown a 24.47 percent increase in child rape and sexual abuse cases registered in the five South India states from the previous year, with Tamil Nadu leading the table.

While Uttar Pradesh leads the national figures, Tamil Nadu is ranked fourth among the 28 states and is behind only Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

As per the report, a total of 50,935 child abuse cases were registered in 2021 — with more than one-fourth (13,089) of the cases registered in South India — under the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which aims to protect juveniles from sexual abuse.

The nature of sexual offences against children includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, use of a child for pornography, and other unnatural offences under the POCSO Act.

In South India, Tamil Nadu is followed by Karnataka (2,813 cases), Telangana (2,698 cases), Kerala (2,647 cases), and Andhra Pradesh (466).

Meanwhile, the report comes at a time when the chief pontiff of the prestigious Murugha Matha in the Chitradurga district of Karnataka has been accused of sexual abuse of two minor girls staying in a hostel run by the Matha.

The seer, Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, was later arrested on 1 September and booked under the relevant sections of the POCSO Act.

Rising child sexual abuse in South India

Tamil Nadu saw a 31 percent increase in child sexual abuse cases, accounting for 4,465 cases registered in 2021 as compared to 3,090 cases reported in 2020.

The highest number of these cases — 4,415 in number — lie in the child rape section, the most common form of child sexual abuse across the country barring Uttar Pradesh, where cases of sexual assault of a child took the top spot.

"Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, many children were at home. Parents were also busy with work, so chances of children being abused by their known ones would have increased, as they were in close contact with them, and children trust the people they know," Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights member Mallikai Selvaraj told South First.

She added that the number of school dropouts also increased during the pandemic, especially in the lower-income groups. "Not just cases of child abuse, even child marriages increased during this period," she claimed.

According to the NCRB report, while Karnataka witnessed a hike of 25 percent in registered sexual abuse crimes against minors, Telangana, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh followed with 23, 18, and 3 percent rise in sexual abuse cases.

After the cases of child rape, the nature of child sexual abuse moves to sexual assault cases across the country with Telangana recording the highest of such cases in South India: 810.

While acknowledging the important role of parents, Selvaraj stressed that the onus was on schools and class teachers to regularly monitor the activities of children, especially those who go on long leaves and resume school after one.

"Counselling should be properly monitored in schools. There should be more social media awareness as children are exposed to a lot of stuff at an early age. Children should be properly sensitised about 'good and bad touch'," she explained to South First.

Rest of India

Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh led the national figures for two consecutive years — 2020 and 2021 — in sexual abuse cases registered against juveniles, according to the NCRB report.

It positioned Uttar Pradesh on top with a total of 6,970 registered cases under the POCSO Act, as compared to 6,898 cases in 2020.

Right after Uttar Pradesh was Maharashtra, accounting for 6,116 child sexual abuse cases registered in 2021. The state recorded a 7 percent rise as compared to the cases registered in 2020.

Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh ranked third in India for sexual crimes committed against children, recording a total of 6,012 cases with an increase of 6 percent from the cases registered in 2020.

According to Selvaraj, the Central government needs to increase the punishment for the culprits. "Punishment sentences should be severe so that perpetrators feel the utmost sense of fear before committing such a heinous crime," she said.

At present, the minimum sentence for a convict under most of the sections under the POCSO Act is between three and 10 years.

Only under Section 4 and Section 6 of the POCSO Act — aggravated penetrative assault on a child less than 16 years of age — does the minimum imprisonment call for imprisonment of 10 years that can be extended up to 20 years or the remainder of one's natural life.

Selvaraj also observed that children should be taught the relevant law of child abuse and how, where, and when to complain.

The important role of judicial bodies

Founder of Mysuru-based NGO Odanadi, KV Stanley called the role of the judiciary "very crucial" in curbing child sexual abuse cases.

This also includes the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), a quasi-judicial body with the authority of disposing of cases of child protection and rehabilitation.

Stanley, who engages in the rescues and rehabilitation of sexually-exploited women and children in Mysuru, appeared before the district's CWC on 26 August, alleging sexual harassment by the seer with the assistance of the hostel warden and three others.

Referring to the Murugha Matha case, Stanley alleged that the CWC committed many faults right from the beginning.

"The Chitradurga CWC did not create a conducive and free atmosphere for the victims to share their agonies in front of their counsellor, as it asked her to move out of the room even when they reached there at midnight. This is an illogical, illegal, and inhuman behaviour of the CWC, which is supposed to handle the case with maximum care and human value," Stanley told South First.

While claiming that the whole government machinery worked in favour of the accused, Stanley said that the fact that the seer was arrested after seven days due to his high profile clearly showed the biases in the system.

"It gave him ample amount of time to make arrangements of his release as seven days is a golden time. Under the POCSO Act, when the child's statement is recorded, an Investigating Officer can immediately take the accused into custody, irrespective of his profile, as the law does not discriminate."

Stanley also alleged that the police breached the POCSO Act by taking the victims to the spot of the crime even when the accused and his supporters were present there.