India is witnessing an unprecedented upsurge in sexual violence against minors
and children's rights activists says poverty, parental ignorance, and unsafe living conditions are the chiefly to blame. In the latest reported case, a 2-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped near a railway track in New Delhi's Kotwali area on Nov. 20. The toddler, who had been sleeping with her parents on a footpath, was gagged and taken away by a 24-year-old man. She was later found lying unconscious, naked and bleeding near the tracks. Her condition reportedly stabilized after she was hospitalized. Sexual crimes against minors are increasing, according to studies by the federal government's child development department. The most vulnerable group is aged 5-12 years
. The surveys conducted across all 29 Indian states indicated that more than half of Indian children, or 53 percent, reported experiencing one or more forms of sexual abuse.
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The study conducted under the federal Child Development Ministry this year said some "21.9 percent of child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse." In at least half of the cases, the abusers were persons "known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility," it added. A lack of parental awareness and unsafe living conditions of children were cited as the prime reasons for the rising number of cases of violence against children, according to Dilip Malhotra, a children's rights activist based in New Delhi. Children under 18 comprise 44.4 percent of India's 1.2 billion people, reveals a study by David K. Carson, Jennifer M. Foster and Aparajita Chowdhury entitled "Sexual abuse of children in India." The study, conducted in 2011, claims Indian children are prone to exploitation and abuse because of half of the population has no access to basic education, nutrition, shelter or healthcare. An estimated 1.7 million Indians are homeless
, living on the streets, sleeping on railway platforms, and seeking refuge in other public places. Many children who suffer abuse have no means of reporting the crimes they are subjected to, Malhotra said. "They mostly face these ordeals in private and suffer the consequences both physically and mentally," he added. There have been at least six reported cases of child rape
in New Delhi in recent months. On April 24, a 13-year-old girl was raped in forestland in the capital. On June 12, a 12-year-old girl was raped inside a car. And on July 16, a 6-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped. On Aug. 24, a 16-year-old girl reported that four men kidnapped and raped her over a period of one week. On Sept. 18, a 22-year-old man raped a 7-year old girl at a park. And on Sept. 24, a 6-year-old girl was raped by one of her neighbors on the terrace of her home. Malhotra said most child abuse crimes go unreported. For most parents from impoverished households, eking out a living is a more pressing concern than reporting sexual harassment to the police, which they see as futile given the low rate of convictions. Even in reported cases, the conviction rate hovers around 28 percent. Psychologist Ajit Nanda said the majority of child rapists are known to their victims. "They could be anyone — an uncle, their father's friend, an elder brother's classmate. The problem is that the child for a long time doesn't even understand what is happening to them," Nanda said. Srinigar-based rights advocate Shuja ul Hassan said those who prey on children often get away with it due to a lack of evidence against them. "A child who is barely four or 5 years old doesn't know what rape means and therefore cannot really explain what happened to them. Due to the lack of evidence, the culprits usually get away scot-free," he said. Hassan, a practicing lawyer, said parents should more closely monitor who their children interact with, in order to safeguard them and stop them from coming to harm. Education is the key to check violence against children, said Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan, a children's rights activist who is based in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Moral and sex education should be made compulsory in schools and college nationwide, and pornographic literature and films should be banned, he said. "Separate tribunals should be set up specifically for cases of child sexual abuse," he said. Mass media should also be better utilized to create awareness about the risks children face because most parents do not always understand the danger they are potentially in, experts say.