By Nabarun Goswami
SHILLONG: As a nation struggles hard to come to terms with the gruesome gang rape and assault of a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi, an almost similar incident back in Meghalaya has posed more serious questions on the existing state of affairs.
On December 13, an 18-year-old girl was gang raped by 16 boys while she was on her way home from the Simsang festival in Williamnagar. Subsequently, the police arrested 15 of the accused only to find that eight of them were juveniles.
At an age when the youngsters are expected to run around with football gears and cricket bats, such an act of barbarism, though baffling, does not surprise many.
Is it that objectifying women through media, films and pornography tempt youngsters to explore a domain which seems both adventurous and widely accepted or is it the desire to experiment that drives children to the edge? What could be the factors which influenced the young boys to commit a crime as heinous as rape and is our ‘abstinence-only’ education contributing to such episodes?
The number of cases of sexual assault has been on the rise in the State and according to the available data 237 cases of rape had been registered in 2009, 261 in 2010 and 269 in 2011.
Out of the 269 cases in 2011, 21 have been allegedly committed by juveniles thus making it a noticeable figure for a small state like Meghalaya.
Additional SP (Crime), Vivek Syiem felt that youngsters are not aware of the consequences that could befall them for being on the wrong side of the law.
“Easy access to improper content on the internet and lack of parental guidance are also among the prime reasons (contributing to the crimes),” Syiem said.
Taking Syiem’s point forward, Father Cilia of the Don Bosco Youth Centre said that the internet is both ‘beautiful and ugly’.
“Youngsters tend to act upon what they see and read (on the net) with the false belief that everybody else does the same. This stands true for drinks, drugs and even sex,” Fr Cilia said while adding that lack of sex education adds to the problem.
Eva Synrem, a coordinator with Childline, believes that inadequate interaction between parents and children is one of the major social factors that drive youngsters into a state in which they tend to perceive and act on things in a way that appears to be ‘the way to go’ for them.
“Lack of sex education and easy availability of pornographic content on the internet and with roadside CD vendors also urge the young ones, who are not fully aware of their own body, to indulge,” she added.
A counsellor from the city-based Child Protection Unit was of the view that when children see something perceived to be glamorous, they tend to ape it. While stating that peer pressure and influence is among the contributing factors to such crimes, the official also blamed parents for not reaching out to the children.
The questions that arise now is that what could be the possible ways to root out such crimes in a world of free media which caters to youngsters in search of ‘independence’ and should juveniles be let off without punitive action.
Additional SP, Crime, Syiem said that awareness among kids about the implications of wrong doing could go a long way in serving as a deterrent.
“Parental guidance is also an absolute necessity,” he said.
However, on a personal note, Syiem felt that the upper age limit of juveniles involved in such crimes could be brought down to 16 from the present 18 so as to book them.
It may be mentioned that only corrective action, like sending to counselling centres, can be taken against juveniles under the existing laws.
Father Cilia advocated sex education as the single most important factor for curbing the rape menace among teenagers.
“Sex education is to teach our boys and girls to respect each other. Parents must shed their reservations on it,” he said.
A nonbeliever in punitive action for juveniles, Father Cilia, however, felt that a message has to be sent to youngsters that ‘being a minor does not mean they can get away with anything.’
Synrem from Childline said that awareness on protection against sexual abuse is important. “Many youngsters are not aware of what rape is and what it means to the victim,” she said.
The Childline coordinator was not in favour of punitive action over corrective action.
The counselor from the city based Child Protection Unit felt that tackling the menace requires a multipronged approach ranging from proper guidance on part of parents and teachers along with the need for proper counselling.