MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - People selling children into India’s sex trade are unlikely to be deterred by a new order approving the death penalty for child rape, because laws are rarely applied in trafficking cases, said a leading campaigner.
India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act - which allows lifetime prison sentences for people who sexually assault children - is being amended to introduce the death penalty for the rape of children below age 12.
But authorities have consistently failed to use the law to prosecute child sex trafficking, said Sunitha Krishnan, who was named today as a finalist for the prestigious Aurora Humanitarian Prize.
“The death penalty can be a deterrent only if POCSO is applied in trafficking cases, and if there is speedy trial and justice,” said Krishnan. “But POCSO is applied in very few trafficking cases.”
India’s cabinet approved the amendment on April 21 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an emergency meeting in response to nationwide outrage in the wake of a series of child rape cases.
However, an increase in the sex trafficking of children and infants has failed to spark a similar national outcry, according to campaigners.
Reports of human trafficking rose by almost 20 percent in 2016 against the previous year to more than 8,000. More than 60 percent of nearly 24,000 victims rescued were children, according to government data.
Krishnan, who petitioned the Supreme Court to take action against the circulation of rape videos on social media, said the internet has driven up demand for child sex videos while allowing traffickers to hide their identities.
“Sexual assault of children and babies is now being recorded and uploaded on porn websites or circulated on social media,” said Krishnan, who is a co-founder of the anti-trafficking charity Prajwala.
Krishnan, a gang rape survivor whose Hyderabad-based charity has rescued and rehabilitated scores of trafficking victims over the last two decades, said authorities are becoming more aware of the crime - but that has not translated into action.
“There is a big gap between the rate with which this problem is expanding and our response to it,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
While authorities do use existing laws to prosecute pimps, brothel managers and traffickers, customers who assault children trafficked into sexual slavery are rarely arrested, Krishnan said.
“By the time we get our act together and do something, so many lives will be sacrificed,” said Krishnan, who is also a recipient of one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri.
Her fellow Aurora finalists are Kyaw Hla Aung, a lawyer and leader of Myanmar’s beleaguered Rohingya community, and Héctor Tomás González Castillo, a Franciscan friar in Mexico who provides shelter for migrants headed to the United States.
The annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was founded by Armenia-based 100 LIVES, a global initiative that commemorates a 1915 massacre in which up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Muslims.