|Child rights activists stage a protest against child abuse in the southern Indian city of Bangaluru on Jan. 14 after news reports said a 38-year old man had confessed to raping more than 500 children over a period 12 years. (Photo courtesy of IANS)|
A 38-year-old man has confessed to sexually assaulting as many as 500 kids, mostly girls, in northern India stunning the nation and kicking off a discussion on child abuse.
Sunil Rastogi, who was arrested on Jan. 15 in New Delhi, confessed to sexually assaulting hundreds of children aged 7-10 years, over a period of 12 years in the neighboring states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Apart from sexually assaulting the children, Rastogi, who used to work as a tailor in New Delhi, also claimed to have attempted to abuse about 2,500 children in the region, police said.
"Rastogi has been living in Rudrapur city in Uttarakhand and used to visit Delhi once a week to find his victims. He used to lure girls whom he found walking home alone from school," Omvir Bishnoi, a senior police official said.
Child abuse in India has been rising these past few years. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, there were nearly 58,224 cases of child abuse in 2013 as compared to 38,172 in 2012 and 33,052 in 2011.
Nearly 7,000 cases were registered under the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act from November 2012 to March 2015.
The act, which was brought into force in 2012, aims to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography and provide special courts to try such offences.
Child sexual abuse cases remain hidden in Indian society as a relative is often to blame.
"It becomes an issue of reputation for the family who prefer to put a cover on it like it never happened. But this has a substantial effect on the development of the child," said Lisa Joseph, thematic officer of the child rights and human trafficking cell of Caritas India.
Expressing concern over the sexual abuse of 500 girls, Joseph said that the incident was "sickening," adding that the issue has been raised repeatedly but nothing concrete has been done on the ground to prevent it.
"Child abuse is a priority issue. People are aware but they are not focusing on it. We need parents to come out and speak against it," she said.
Joseph said that they rescued 150 children who were the victims of human trafficking last year in the northeast Indian city of Darjeeling.
Chavanod Sister Lucy Kurien, who works with the victims of child abuse through her organization, Maher, told ucanews.com that sometimes a child who undergoes such trauma is scarred for life. It has a hugely negative effect on their mental health and well-being.
"Girls who go through this experience develop a fear of men and start hating them. The victims also tend to emotionally withdraw and do not open up easily," said Sister Kurien.
She said that the Indian system of dealing with abuse is not effective because "we do not have a real plan of action. It is still seen as taboo. Awareness has to start at the school and family level."
Meanwhile, the federal Ministry of Women and Child Development has announced it will establish a national alliance against online child sexual abuse and exploitation.
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