India Recorded More Than 350 Crimes against Children Each Day during COVID

Illustrative Image | Photo: Neil De Souza

An analysis of the NCRB report 2020 reveals that 1,28,531 cases of Crimes Against Children were recorded last year, which meant that each day over 350 crimes were committed against children in India, during the COVID pandemic.

However, when compared with figures from NCRB 2019, one notices a drop of 13.3 percent in the total number of cases recorded. There were 1,48,185 cases of Crime against Children recorded in 2019 which meant that each day over 400 crimes are committed against children in India.

Though there is a drop in total number of crimes against children, child marriage has increased 50 percent and online abuse has increased 400 percent in one year.

Further analysis of the decadal trends suggest that crimes against children in India has increased steeply by 381 percent in the decade over 2010-2020. Over the same time, the number of overall crimes in India decreased by 2.2 percent.

The graph below gives the decadal trend over last 10 years (2010-2020)

A closer look at the crime heads reveals that nearly 80 percent of the total cases of crimes against children were recorded under two heads – Kidnapping and abduction (42.6 percent) and Crimes under Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 r/w Sec.376,354, 509 IPC (36.7percent) of the total. More than 40 percent of all crimes against children were sexual offences recorded under POCSO, different provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956.

The pie chart below illustrates the distribution under different crime heads

A state-wise analysis shows that Madhya Pradesh (13.2 percent), Uttar Pradesh (11.8 percent), Maharashtra (11.1 percent), West Bengal (7.9) and Bihar (5.1 per cent) account for nearly half of total crimes against children (49.3 percent) in India. Compared to NCRB 2019, the only change in the list of top five states is that West Bengal has replaced Delhi while seeing a sharp increase in cases by more than 63 percent.

Commenting on the trends revealed by the NCRB 2020 data, Priti Mahara, Director, Policy Research and Advocacy, CRY – Child Rights and You said, “Experiences during humanitarian crises have revealed that issues of child protection tend to get exacerbated. School closures during COVID,mobility restrictions to contain the spread of the pandemic coupled with the economic slowdown disproportionately impacted livelihoods and household economic and food security of marginalized families. Therefore it was highly likely that it contributed to increasing children’s vulnerabilities to childlabour, child marriage, child trafficking as well as cases of gender-based violence.”

Child marriage and child labour are issues that represent a complex interplay of socio-economic and cultural practices, and therefore despite having legislations against these practices, continue to be under-reported.

According to the CRY analysis of NCRB data, cases under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 saw an increase of nearly 50 percent from 525 in 2019 to 785 in 2020.However, the number of cases recorded under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 saw a decline of around 38 percent from 770 cases in 2019 to 476 cases in 2020. This is in contrast to the recently released ILO global estimates on child labour 2020 report which states that there were 16.8 million more children within the age-group of 5 to 11 years in child labour in 2020 than in 2016. The COVID-19 crisis threatens to further erode global progress against child labour unless urgent mitigation measures are taken. New analysis suggests a further 8.9 million children will be in child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of rising poverty driven by the pandemic. Therefore, this decline needs to be seen in the light of reporting and recording of cases before drawing conclusions regarding progress related to addressing child labour in India.

Another important aspect related to child protection during COVID has been the lack of avenues for recreation and socialisation. Since there were restrictions on socialising in-person, and teaching shifted online, there was a corresponding rise in time spent by children online, making them vulnerable to online abuse and exploitations. A CRY study conducted among parents / caregivers of children shows that a majority (88%) of the respondents reported an increase in their children’s screen time during the pandemic[1]. NCRB data reveals that cases recorded under Cyber Crimes/Information Technology Act, 2000 rose sharply by over 400 percent in one year from 164 (NCRB 2019) to 842 (NCRB 2020).

Priti said, “More than 100 countries across the world have seen disruptions in services related to prevention and response for child protection violations, with countries in South Asia reporting maximum disruptions (UNICEF 2020). Therefore, prevention, response, reporting and recording of cases of crimes against children is likely to have suffered as reflected in the overall decline in number of cases recorded.

“Another significant aspect to keep in mind would be the information provided by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The apex child rights monitoring bodyrecently informed the Supreme Court that more than 1 lakh children were abandoned, became orphans or lost one of their parents due to COVID-19 or other reasons between April 1, 2020 and August 23, 2021. Since there are more than 1 lakh children added to the existing vulnerable child population, it is of paramount importance that stringent measures are to be followed so that these children are protected from being approached by the perpetrators.

“Urgent measures are needed to strengthen India’s child protection system and ensure that efforts during humanitarian crises are swift, well-planned and responsive to children’s and families’ priorities. Such a system would enable following of due processes within stipulated timelines and adequately utilise the strengths of a dedicated cadre of child protection officials. Strengthening community-based child-protection mechanisms is also critical to maintain vigilance, identify vulnerable children and families, and act as the first port of call to link with the formal system,” she added.