New Delhi: A letter has been written to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde requesting him to take suo motu (on its own) cognizance of increase in number of child abuse cases during the ongoing nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The letter written by two lawyers, Sumeer Sodhi and Aarzoo Aneja, said that during the lockdown though overall rate of crime had gone down, incidents of abuse and violence faced by children have risen.
“Under normal circumstances, it is not considered safe for abused children to stay at home as it might result in further suffering at the hands of their own family members. However, during the lockdown the danger to these children is exacerbated, as they are unable to leave their homes. The isolation has further shattered support networks, making it even more difficult for the victims to seek help or escape,” the letter said.
It said child abuse incidents have already risen in India due to the lockdown and will keep increasing if steps are not taken immediately to protect and support the victims of child abuse.
“This Court is therefore requested to take cognizance of the issue of protecting rights of children and their safety in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The need of the hour is to issue guidelines to various authorities for protecting children from violence and abuse, which is inflicted upon them by their own family members/ relatives/care takers, taking measures to ensure that counselling is made available to them. The NGOs/ Organizations which work in the field of child welfare need to be mobilized at this time of child abuse pandemic. Hence the present letter petition,” it said.
The lawyers, said that the basis of their letter are articles published in media in which it has been reported that hotlines are lighting up with cases of child abuse and the childline India Helpline has received more than 92,000 calls asking for protection of children from abuse and violence in the past few days during the lockdown period.
“It was further stated that number of calls have increased by 50 per cent since March 24, 2020, i.e. the day of imposition of lockdown. It is further stated that confinement is fostering tension and strain created by security, health, and money issues. This sudden surge in the number of such incidents which are being reported and those which go unreported is not confined to India, as per various reports in international dailies,” the letter said.
It said that the person committing the abuse is putting in danger the life of a child, and clearly violating the fundamental right of life and the right to live with dignity of that child, which is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution of India as held by this court in plethora of cases.
It said that the top court has recently held that since COVID-19 is intensifying in India, it is important that urgent measures are taken on priority basis to prevent the spread of virus to Child Care Institutions and has directed positive measures, which has to be taken by child welfare committees, Juvenile Justice Boards and Children Courts, Government amongst others.
The letter said that the top court has by its recent orders acknowledged that violence, including sexual violence may be exacerbated in context of anxiety and stress produced by lockdown and fear of the disease.
“The need for further orders on the subject arise in view of the fact that the order dated April 3, is restricted to preventing spread of COVID-19 in Child Care Institutions and Foster Homes, whereas further orders are required to be passed to ensure that the children otherwise who are being subjected to domestic and sexual violence are protected from the wrath of the frustration that possibly comes with the lockdown,” it said.
The letter further stated that no notification/guidelines/positive measures have been taken by the Government until now for protecting the children from abuse during this period of lockdown and there are children who need care and attention.
It said that the COVID -19 pandemic situation is the greatest challenge of our times and as the pandemic is intensifying in India, there are chances that the lockdown would be extended.
“If positive measures are not taken urgently for protecting rights of the children, their fundamental right to live with dignity and their right to safety would be violated as the children would be exposed to danger.
“Though there is also an increase in the number of cases being reported of domestic violence, but since there is a possibility of a grown up woman fighting for her rights as opposed to a child who possibly does not even know what rights he/she has, the present letter is being restricted for welfare of children,” the letter said.