Rape of Delhi girl, 4, reignites safety fears

The rape of a four-year-old girl in New Delhi has reignited fears for the safety of women and children in the country's capital city amid an ongoing countrywide struggle to stem sexual violence.

Police said a 26-year-old unemployed man arrested yesterday was known to the girl, who was found unconscious with her face and body slashed on railway tracks near her house in a slum area last Friday. She is in the intensive care unit of a New Delhi hospital, where doctors said her condition was stable.

The police said the girl had been lured with food,and then raped in a secluded spot not far from her house in the north-west of the city.

"The prime accused is known to the family for 11/2 years. He used to go to that area and was acquainted with the children and residents of the locality," said the deputy police commissioner for New Delhi's north-west region, Mr Vijay Singh.

A police official, who did not want to be named, said 40 people had been brought in for questioning during the past three days.

Sexual crimes against women have remained under the spotlight in India since the fatal 2012 gang- rape of a student in a moving bus in the capital city. The victim, named Nirbhaya as rape victims cannot be identified under Indian laws, died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

That case triggered street protests, forcing the government to change laws including introducing the death penalty for serial rapists.

Four convicted of the crime are appealing the death sentence. Another - a juvenile - has almost completed three years in a remand home and is due for release in December.

The latest incident of rape attracted strong condemnation in New Delhi, with Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal describing the injuries to the child as horrific.

"Every day, we have a Nirbhaya in Delhi... In 2014, only nine accused were convicted in Delhi in crimes against women. Can you imagine!" she tweeted.

New Delhi, known as the country's rape capital, had 1,441 rape cases in 2013 and 1,813 rapes last year - the highest among the metro cities.

Women activists said although there is a lot more awareness about sexual violence against women and girls since 2012, more needed to be done, including stricter implementation of the law.

"I can't say nothing has changed since 2012 but it hasn't changed enough to control these incidents," said women's rights activist Ranjana Kumari.

"We have to look inwards into society where a child playing in a neighbourhood becomes a target. The police can't prevent every case but policing still remains weak in Delhi. Their emphasis is on women learning to defend themselves through self-defence classes. How can you teach a four-year-old self-defence?"

Activists also said safeguarding children from sexual violence should be a higher priority.

A 2007 government survey concluded that, every day, eight children in India are subject to child sexual abuse. Dr Kumari said 80 per cent of children are sexually abused by those known to the family.

Independent MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar recently started an online petition asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tighten institutional mechanisms to better tackle cases of sexual assault against children. He found, for instance, that most trials took more than a year.

"It (last week's rape) is another glaring piece of evidence that there is something very wrong with the way we are responding to this malaise; this is neither the first incident nor is it going to be last unless there is serious effort," he said.

This article was first published on Oct 14, 2015.
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