India court orders special trials for child rape cases


NEW DELHI: An Indian woman looks out of a window near the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Nizamuddin in New Delhi yesterday. — AFP

MUMBAI: Girls are being trafficked into domestic servitude or sex slavery after their parents illegally marry them off, said officials in the Indian state of Maharashtra yesterday. Researchers are conducting the state’s first survey into links between child marriage and slavery, according to Vijaya Rahatkar, chairperson of Maharashtra’s women’s commission. The legal age of marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men. Parents face a fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,535) and two years in prison if they are caught trying to marry off their underage children.

But discrimination against girls remains widespread, particularly in rural and poor communities where parents often view daughters as financial burdens and continue to marry them off early. “Many of these marriages do not last, and we have now seen cases where there are direct and indirect linkages to trafficking,” Rahatkar said. Rahatkar said her commission decided to carry out the survey after receiving reports of child brides enslaved in households and sold into brothels.

After one such report, authorities rescued a girl who had been married off and then forced to work without wages on a farm, where she was abused and tied up so she did not run away. The findings of the survey, currently underway in districts that report high rates of child marriage, will be shared with various state governments, said Rahatkar. There has been a “complete vacuum in the research space on trafficking and child marriage,” said Adrian Phillips of the anti-trafficking group Justice and Care. The research is expected to provide data that will expose connections between the two crimes, said Phillips, whose group has partnered with the women’s commission to conduct the survey.

The number of girls getting married in India has fallen by nearly half in the past decade, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said in March. But 27 percent of all brides are still below age 18, according to UNICEF. Campaigners say it is difficult to convince many people that the tradition of child marriage is wrong. “They believe there is no ill in the practice, as it has been going on for years,” said Nirmal Gorana, convener of the National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labor. “When parents marry their girls young, it is also to ensure they do not stake any claim on the parent’s property,” he added.

Special trials for rape
Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court yesterday called for fast-track investigations and special courts to hear child rape cases amid an upsurge in deadly sex crimes. Authorities have been facing intense pressure to act since the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl by a group of Hindus, and other cases. After the rape of the girl in Jammu and Kashmir state made national headlines last month, the government changed the law so that child rapists can face execution. A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said yesterday that trial courts must not grant unnecessary adjournments in such sensitive cases.

It also said state police chiefs should form task forces to investigate child rape cases, which must be heard by special courts. “Efforts have to be made by high courts to provide child-friendly courts,” the bench said. The directives came amid public outrage in recent weeks over the rape and murder in Jammu that has put an increased spotlight on other near-daily cases. Activists say the government does not take rape seriously. Accusations have mounted since new Kashmir deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta called the Jammu rape a “small incident” just hours after being sworn in on Monday.

Anger has also grown over the case of a six-year-old girl who died in hospital at the weekend, a week after she was viciously attacked and raped at Cuttack in the northeastern state of Odisha. India saw similar protests after the 2012 gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi. She later died in hospital of her injuries. The incident triggered weeks of street protests and global condemnation. But sexual violence, including against children, remains unabated. Some 11,000 child rape cases were reported in 2015. – Agencies