The latest figures show an increase in reported child rape cases of more than 330 per cent between 2001 and 2011, with the total number just short of 50,000.
A report subtitled 'India's Hell Holes' has been presented to the UN's Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
The Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights says there is a sense of national outrage at the rising number of children who are being sexually assaulted.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi
CHAKMA: I would say I think the number has surprised everybody, including the Indian media, and they'll be shocked. But these cases have been happening on such a regular basis and sadly at the end of the day there's little accountability. I think the biggest problem in the country is the lack of fear of the rule of law and it comes from two main factors; one is the police themselves are not accountable for any kind of dereliction of duties, including not studying the false information report against child abuse cases. And secondly, the judiciary is so much over-burdened with the cases that even a case like this would take years for the judiciary to conclude a trial. So at the end of the day there's a feeling among the criminals that even if you go to jail that it will not necessarily lead to punishment in a short period of time. And I think this has actually created a sense of impunity among the criminals.
EWART: Do you have any sense at all as to how many cases may have gone unreported? What I'm wondering is to what degree this 48-thousand figure that you have may actually only be a small percentage of the whole?
CHAKMA: I would say at least 300-thousand cases have not been reported. It's quite clear, I mean it depends on how they take it, for example in the juvenile justice zones sexual assault takes place regularly over the weeks, months and years. These cases, because they are under the control of the state and the people who are manning the houses, they are never reported. So lots of sexual abuses, which basically happen in the family and … they are never reported because of the conservative society. So I would say the 48-thousand cases in ten years is a very conservative figure. And if all the cases were reported it would be about 150-thousand cases at least.
EWART: You will be meeting the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. What would you be saying to her based on the information that you've gathered? How can the UN help in this situation?
CHAKMA: I think the UN they can press home to the government, the government of India has a look at it, … support for all the homes, especially with respect to the juvenile homes or the shelter homes for women. The issue is there is no supervision, there is no inspections, despite the legal requirement saying that every three months each house must be inspected and … submitted. So the UN actually has to press on to the government of India that they have to respect the rule and the law they have created. Now unless the government of India creates those rules and regulations, it's very difficult to stop the violence against women and children.
EWART: And do you get the sense that the situation to some degree is almost out of control, I mean the title of your report, "India's Hell Holes" seems to me says it all?
CHAKMA: At the moment it's out of control but should the government be serious about it I think it's very easy to control this kind of sexual abuses. It's very clear if an inspection takes place at the … and if you provide an opportunity where the inmates staying in this kind of shelter homes are actually able to express the atrocities, the abuses, assaults committed on them, in a place where there is no official from the particular home is present, I'm sure the truth will come out. So it's surprising why the Ministry actually has not setup committees which is actually required under the law itself. And that's also one of the reasons why we have decided to move to the Supreme Court to file a public interest litigation saying that the government has to basically comply with the law it has established. And this is one particular issue which has been ignored during the whole discourse on the juvenile justice system in India. And I would say the same situation for the women who are trafficked and who are rescued and kept in their homes, which at the end of the day are actually turned into basically harems.
EWART: Do you sense that there is a very strong mood for change and for action in India at the moment in the light of the case in New Delhi just a couple of days ago involving that unfortunate five year old girl, and also the case a few months ago involving the medical student who was attacked and raped and ultimately died? We've seen protests across the country, there seems to be an upsurge now, that people want something done about this, so that must encourage you in your organisation?
CHAKMA: Well I think the problem is in a country like India there are so many contesting issues that one particular issue comes up and stays in the news for about ten days. Then it dies down and the government shifts its focus onto other issues. What the government is trying to do is basically enact laws and allocate more resources. But the problem has never been with the lack of laws or lack of resources, the problem has always been about accountability, and that has been missing and there is no initiative on the part of the government to address that particular issue. And that's why in a way despite all the legal matters etcetera it doesn't evoke any confidence. Because the government has not actually touched the key issues. The key issues for example it's the police are not … the first information reports as happened with this rape of this five year old girl and then basically you have to take immediate action, suspending some police official or transferring him to another police station is not punishment. There is a criminal procedure there is a new act which actually provides punishment for the police officials. But if these kind of accountability mechanisms are not established, then you have not addressed the problem. And the government is not interested to address any of the accountability matters.