Bengaluru- A recent disclosure has brought to light a disconcerting reality in Karnataka, with a staggering 49,000 cases of underage pregnancies reported in the state over the past three years. The Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) Department's survey revealed over 28,000 cases in 2023 alone, indicating a distressing surge in this concerning trend.
As per RCH information, there has been an increase in the number of underage pregnancies in Bengaluru, Vijayapura, and Belagavi districts in 2023. Bengaluru reported 2,815 cases, Vijayapura reported 2,004, and Belagavi district reported 2,754 cases. Udupi district documented 56 cases, while Kolar district reported 98 cases.
Child marriage, sexual violence, illegal and unnatural physical contact are cited as the main reasons for underage pregnancies in girls.
Dr. K. Naganagowda, Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, revealed recently to the media that 49,000 cases of underage pregnancies were reported in the state over the past three years.The substantial increase in underage pregnancy incidents involving girls under the age of 18 emerged from a survey conducted by the Health and Family Welfare Department, Dr. Naganagowda informed reporters.
However, the commission plans to conduct a re-survey across the state to validate this information. Anganwadi workers and Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) will conduct the re-survey under the commission's supervision.
Dr. Naganagowda noted that in the three years, highest number of underage pregnancies was reported in Kalyana Karnataka districts, while the lowest was in Udupi. Most districts reported 1,500-2,000 cases. He cited "love affairs" as a significant factor leading to underage pregnancies.
"Some deliveries took place at home, and there were instances of newborns dying," he added. The commission faces a dilemma in initiating legal action against those responsible for underage pregnancies.
One of the major concerns highlighted by Dr. Naganagowda is the adverse impact of legal actions against culprits responsible for underage pregnancies. Initiating legal proceedings could potentially harm the victims and their families, prompting the commission to explore alternative strategies for addressing the issue.
The commission is now set to raise awareness among high school and pre-university students about the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Dr. Naganagowda emphasized the importance of holding institutes accountable for negligence, particularly in cases of suicides by adolescents in school and college hostels.
Furthermore, addressing the root causes of underage pregnancies, the commission plans to open a school for child laborers in Mangaluru. The school aims to provide a six-month bridge course to children of migrant laborers and beggars, ensuring a smoother transition into mainstream education.
A research paper titled 'Justice Awaits: An Analysis of the Efficacy of Justice Delivery Mechanisms in Cases of Child Abuse,' jointly released by the India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) and the Gayatri Seva Sansthan, Udaipur in December 2023 revealed concerning data regarding the pendency of POCSO cases in Indian states.
The study estimates that, without the addition of new cases, it will take nearly nine years to clear the backlog of 2,43,237 pending POCSO cases as of January 31, 2023. Despite policy initiatives, efforts, and financial commitments, the backlog persists in special fast-track courts across the country. The disposal time varies from one year in Karnataka and Goa to over 25 years in Bihar, Delhi, and Arunachal Pradesh. Worryingly, in 15 out of 36 states/UTs, the time required to address the backlog has either increased or remained unchanged compared to previous estimates.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Dr Shailendra Pandya, a child rights activist , says child marriage is a serious infringement of fundamental human rights and values such as freedom, dignity, social morality, inclusiveness and equality. Child marriage is a grave issue that persists in India, despite the existence of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This act aims to eradicate child marriage by setting the minimum age for marriage at 18 for girls and 21 for boys. However, child marriage continues to rob children of their childhood and exposes them to various forms of violence, exploitation, and abuse. Additionally, it adversely affects their rights to education, health, and protection.
In 2021, India witnessed a total of 149,404 recorded crimes against children, averaging approximately 409 cases reported each day throughout the year. Among these crimes, there were 1,050 cases registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, victimizing 1,062 children.
Data published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that in 2021, 54,359 children and in 2022, 64,469 children were sexually abused in India. The number of cases pending trial at the end of the calendar year also increased from 2.05 lakh in 2021 to 2.39 lakh in 2022. This grim reality can be altered only when legal instruments created in 2012 specifically to control the crime of child sexual abuse are empowered and made efficient and effective. Ironically, since POCSO's formulation, not much has changed, as the comparative figure reveals that the number of children being sexually abused in the country has almost doubled in the last six years (increased from 33,210 in 2017 to 64,469 in 2022).
The NCRB data also provides the age profile of child rape victims. As per the reported data in 2022, 38,444 children were raped in the country. The age profile of these child victims suggests that half (51 percent) of them were aged between 16 to 18 years. More than one-tenth (11 percent) (4,081 out of 38,444) of children were less than 12 years of age. The rest two-fifths (35 percent) of child victims of rape were aged 12 to 16 years.