The Indian masses tend to ignore or remain silent over juvenile rape cases in India. We are prone to let go of the cases by deeming the acts as child's play or by indulging in the rhetoric of mistake, without even giving a thought to the victim who has suffered irreversible damage from the heinous crime.
Rape has become a common word for everyday news. According to Statista Research Department, in 2018, over 33 thousand cases of rape were filed in India, not taking into account the number of cases that go unreported in the country due to social stigmatization of rape victims. The report by Statista also highlighted that ninety-three percent of these reported cases were filed against someone known to the victim. Rape is one of the most atrocious crimes and steady growth in reported rape cases is a matter of great concern, especially when victims are defamed and/or told to protect themselves with restrictive measures instead of being provided timely justice.
Rape, by definition, means a crime where a person is forced to have intercourse with the offender against their consent or when their consent is acquired through fraud or force. Statutory Rape is when the consent given is considered invalid as the victim is below the required age to legally consent for such behavior. The age to legally consent for sexual activities in India is 18 years old. Statutory Rape is generally used to define the sexual exploitation of minors by adults. But what happens when rape is committed by a minor on a minor? This is where the term 'juvenile' comes into play. A juvenile, here, is a person who is not old enough to be regarded as an adult or held responsible for criminal acts committed by them. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, defines a juvenile as a person who is under the age of 18 and is found to have committed an offense.
Statistics and Factors Behind the Rise in Juvenile Rape Cases
The ‘Crime in India’ report, published by NCRB for the year 2018, shows that ‘Offences affecting human body’ committed by juveniles accounted for 37.7%, of which rape conviction for a juvenile was 13% and assault on a woman to outrage her modesty was 12%, among many other crimes. According to the child rights activist, Yamini Abde, “The urge to do something different, daring, extraordinary filled with thrill is one of the driving forces behind the minors getting involved in heinous crimes like rape and murder.”
In this essence, it is important to ask why these rape cases against minors by minors are increasing so much and so rapidly. While there may be many causes at play, the first and most important aspect to consider is the absolute world of information at the tip of fingers, easily available to the children. The essentiality of mobile phones and the internet, television, articles, and all the other media cannot be denied in a minor's life, especially when they are at an age of effective learning, but the unmonitored usage can be potentially dangerous when age-inappropriate content is freely available. It goes on to become more problematic when parents and mentors either diffuse the subject of sexuality or try to instill a warped perspective of male machismo and female submissiveness among small children. There is very little vocality upon these matters and thus, a sound sexual education with regards to human emotions and sensibility is greatly compromised. Coupled with the lack of education, children also adapt certain belligerent actions from the adults to prove authority and power, ultimately leading to abominable acts of sexual harassment and rape.
Cause(s) for the Rise in Juvenile Sex Offenses
Pornography is one of the major causes for the steady growth in such malicious crimes. In this era of free internet, juveniles come across various pornographic content like inappropriate images, videos, and other media, and sadly they tend to imitate the same thing in real life, thus, the result being Rape. Indians consider discussing sex a taboo and Indian parents tend to ignore the questions of their children regarding this issue. The lockdown imposed due to Covid 19 has boosted Pornography consumption. As per India Today, India reports a high 95% spike in traffic to adult sites.
There can also be lots of other factors affecting these minors like substance abuse, poverty, illiteracy, familial abuse, violence and aggression, coercive peer groups, etc. Peer pressure and familial abuse, either physical or emotional, often results in violent, aggressive, or manipulative behavior which is oftentimes targeted towards victims of such rape cases. Peer pressure is also identified as a primary cause for substance abuse, most commonly including tobacco and alcohol. Clubbed with other substances that can be used as intoxicants, like paint, glue, cleaning fuel, etc., the magnitude of the problem increases. It is not unusual for addicted juveniles to steal, fight or indulge in sexual activities. The web of these complex problems makes the situation more abhorrent and dire.
Recent Juvenile Rape Incidents
Quite recently, an FIR was lodged against two minor boys aged between 10 and 11 years old, accused of gang-raping a 5 year old girl, at a village in the Siwan district of Bihar. To safeguard the accused from legal actions, the male family members had shifted elsewhere and had sent the two accused to different locations. Following this, they were prompted to produce the accused before the police but only the older minor was brought forth. A similar incident occurred in East Champaran, Bihar, when a 3 years old girl was gang-raped by three juveniles, all under 11 years of age. The girl who had gone for a merry playtime was lured to a secluded hutment where she was raped and then later hospitalized. Another incident comes to light when a minor boy shy of being 7 years old was produced before the Juvenile Justice Board, accused of raping a 6 years old girl who had gone to fetch her ball from his house while playing. The Juvenile Justice Board acquitted the accused on the grounds of immature understanding, under Sections 82 and 83 of IPC.
What Does the Law Say?
While there are numerous such cases to write upon, a similar trend of minors under the age of 7 or between the age of 7 to 12 years old are accused of raping a small girl, which is distinctly noticeable. What are the legal consequences for a minor accused of such rape charges? Under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015, the maximum punishment that can be given to a 'juvenile in a conflict with law' is three years, but Section 82 and 83 of the IPC exempts children from legal liability due to their immature age. Section 82 of the IPC, 1860, says that 'nothing is an offense which is done by a child under the age of seven' and presumed them to be 'Doli Incapax’. Doli Incapax is a Latin term which means "incapable of evil". Legally, this is used for minors who are deemed incapable of forming the intent to commit a crime due to insufficient intelligence to distinguish right from wrong. Section 83 of the IPC, 1860, similarly, says that 'Nothing is an offense which is done by a child above seven years of age and under twelve, who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his conduct on that occasion. While Section 82 of IPC, 1860 is irrebuttable, Section 83 of IPC, 1860 can be rebutted by providing strong evidence of mischievous behavior.
The notion of presuming children under the age of seven and between the age of seven to twelve years old as incapable of understanding the nature of their action and consequences of those actions is far-fetched, especially when it is clear that the majority of the accused had carefully chosen secluded places to conduct such heinous crimes. By this, it is evident that the children do acquire knowledge before the age that is legally prescribed, which is perfectly fine as long as the source from which they learn is effective in teaching them proper and moral behavior regarding such activities. It is only in such cases where children are unable to grasp the proper concept of these acts that they commit such horrendous crimes.
That being said, it is also important to acknowledge crimes by these small children individually with regards to their level of maturity, their circumstances, and the consequences that they were expecting. Protection of children from the legal repercussions will only encourage them to undertake such acts in the name of doing something different, daring, and extraordinary. It is known that by the age of five, the human brain develops almost 80% of an individual's personality, skill, and intellectual capacities – 80% of these developments should consist of proper education and understanding instead of distorted information and out of place curiosity to practice the concepts in real life.
Now, the most important question of what measures should be taken to reduce these juvenile rape cases arises. One vital thing that can be done from the part of the parents is to enable the Parental mode in their child's phone and monitor them without disrupting their privacy and giving them enough space to grow and learn. Parents should also try to satiate the child’s curiosity by holding effective conversations. On the part of the school, they should be given a period of sexual education at least once a week so that they can be taught important topics like good touch and bad touch and safety circle. Recently, Uttar Pradesh introduced a new system which states that users who will search pornographic content will get an alert message and similarly, the police will also get the information, and it will be stored in the database of police.
But this has been handled inefficiently and is not feasible because it breaches the Right to Privacy. To study the analytics of the internet, a company named 'Oomuph' has been hired, which will keep an eye on what is being searched on the internet through data. If a person sees pornography, the analytics team will get the information. However, many also browse through porn in a very ethical and moral sense, so keeping a tab on one’s browsing history is an invasion of privacy. While the move by the police department is lauded, people are failing to look at the invasion of privacy in this case. This also contradicts the 2015 Supreme Court judgment in which it said that it cannot stop an adult from exercising his fundamental right to personal liberty to watch porn within the privacy of his room. "Somebody may come to the court and say look I am above 18 and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room. It is a violation of Article 21 [right to personal liberty],” Chief Justice H.L. Dattu observed orally.
Children are precious and seeing them enact such horrific crimes is disheartening, if put lightly. They are the future and if they have come to such vicious paths, then we as a society have failed them. Victim shaming, and propagating a twisted form of society to these children is not the way to lead them out of this darkness. No form of superficial talks and inarticulate ideas of these matters helps eradicate such maliciousness. Education is the need of the hour and we have the responsibility of teaching the children to distinguish what is right and what is wrong. Sexual education has positive effects including increasing young people's knowledge and improving their attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health.
Contrary to conservative beliefs, sexual education does not increase sexual activity, rather it decreases the STD/HIV infection rates, decreases teenage pregnancies, and more importantly reduces the chances of occurrence of juvenile rape cases. The notion that sex education harms a child's mind and conscience is wrong. Sex education aids people to get the information and abilities to make the right decisions about sex and sexuality. Teenagers need this kind of information to make the right choices and protect themselves against a host of problems like sexually transmitted diseases, sexual manipulation and harassment, and non-consensual sex.