Rising cases of domestic abuse of children shocks Kerala

Rising cases of domestic abuse of children shocks Kerala

A random recap on some of Kerala’s newspaper reports from the past couple of weeks unfolds in a flash, among other things, a sordid story of shame. A four-year-old girl physically tortured by her father, ends up in hospital with bruises all over her body and a serious eye injury. A minor Muslim girl married by force to a UAE national in yet another ‘Arabi Kalyanam.’ A two-and-a-half year-old girl beaten up by her aunt over a property dispute involving adults in the family.

Kerala, a state that has stayed ahead of the rest in its social development indices and citizen empowerment initiatives, is increasingly being exposed on the abject treatment of its children. The figures tracking incidence of crime against children – with a rise in reported domestic violence cases – don’t make it look any better. The c (NCRB) puts the state in the sixth spot on its 2012 list based on the rate (number of incidents per a lakh population of children) of cognizable crimes committed against children. Kerala’s rate is 13.84, against a national rate of 7.95. The state is behind Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim on the list.

For long, the line of defence has been that Kerala, in parts due to its high levels of
awareness on human rights and a strong presence of social activists, was reporting more cases than the other states. For child welfare activists who work closely with abuse victims and track socio-economic dynamics of the modern Kerala family, the argument is wearing thin. They state that it’s time the State ensured effective implementation of existing laws, fast-track punishment of offenders and more critically, better understanding of issues that plague the institutions of marriage and family.

“It has to work like a cycle. When we ensure confidentiality of the abuse victim more victims come out and in turn, more offenders are exposed that act as a deterrent. But clearly, the first priority has to be on minimising abuse itself,” says Thomas Joseph, co-ordinator of Childline in the district of Kottayam. Childline – the child protection initiative by the Union ministry of women and child development – in Kerala deals with a host of problems, the most recurring being physical abuse and turmoil due to conflict between parents.

Child protection workers have initiated counselling for parents and are an emerging presence in the meetings of Parent Teacher Associations at schools across the state. The police force, while instrumental in taking the activists’ interventions forward, has also faced flak for apathy and a tendency to bracket child abuse cases as NGO material that’s outside the scope of criminal justice. That the government shelter homes have themselves come under the scanner over their mode of functioning points to the sloppy implementation of child welfare policies. Activists requesting anonymity confirm reports of abuse by caretakers in juvenile homes run by the government.

Rising figures

Figures with the Kerala police show a jump on last year in incidence of crimes against children. Last year, 1,324 cases were registered for various crimes against children. In 2013, in the first five months, the figure stands at 739 including 12 murder and 246 rape cases. In 2012, Kerala registered 34 child-murder and 455 child-rape cases. This year, till May, 418 cases have been registered under the category of Other Crimes Against Children that include domestic torture cases.

Initiatives including the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) have broadly charted the way forward but special courts for fast-track justice and wider counselling reach to address the issues of dysfunctional families could be the decisive measures, according to some of the Childline workers. The NCRB figures are, again, pointers to the angst and simmering depression that shape the formative years of many children.

A total of 8,490 cases of suicide were registered in Kerala in 2012 with 44.1 per cent of the deceased having had to deal with problems within the family. The figure is the highest in India. According to a recent study by the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi done for the Kerala Police, 51.4 per cent of crimes against women in the state are committed at home exposing children to domestic violence from an early age.
Adithi S Namboothiri, a seven-year-old girl who died after torture by her step-mother in Kozhikode, was a startling reminder of what could be wrong with our families.

Shafeeq, a five-year-old boy brutally tortured by his father and step-mother recently in Idukki district, has found himself projected as the face of Kerala’s battered childhoods. The boy who suffered a 75 per cent brain damage in the assaults has shown first signs of recovery. His survival and possible inclusion into a more accommodative society is also likely to be celebrated. Childline workers maintain that these recurring reminders could end up pointless if they don’t translate to administrative measures that go beyond announcements of relief and constitution of committees.

Over the past three months, Childline units in many districts have seen a jump of 20 per cent and more in the number of cases that required intervention. In the wake of the Idukki incident, the state government had proposed a panel to check domestic abuse of children. The Childline workers feel that while the state waits for action on the ground, it could also pursue a long-term objective: getting its adults to take up individual responsibility of the welfare of their children; getting some of them to move on from their own bitter childhoods and ensure that their children have decidedly better childhoods and lives.