By Roli Srivastava
MUMBAI, India, Dec 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian authorities are facing mounting pressure to crackdown on people paying to have sex with children with a politician from India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rallying for public support to call for tougher action.
Fashion designer and spokeswoman of the Mumbai unit of BJP, Shaina Nana Chudasama, better known as Shaina N.C., has set up a change.org petition which already has nearly 100,000 signatures to raise concerns that hardly any child sex buyers are punished.
Child sex offenders in India can get up to life imprisonment under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, but the law is rarely applied in cases of children forced into commercial sex, campaigners say.
"The exploitation of children is so alarming. A person needs to spend all of 100 rupees ($1.50) to exploit children," Shaina N.C. told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She cited the case of a 14-year-old who was pumped with hormone injections to make her look older, was forced into having sex with multiple men, and later arrested along with brothel managers. The customers were let off after a warning.
She is demanding the chief minister of the western Maharashtra state, Devendra Fadnavis, mandate the police to arrest buyers of child sex.
"I am hoping the government will support the petition. We need to protect our children from across all sections of the society," she said.
Campaigners on Thursday unveiled early findings of a study on child sexual exploitation that showed people paying for child sex are never arrested or prosecuted.
"In a regular child sexual abuse case, the child's parents file a case against a known offender, which makes investigation easier," said Roop Sen, researcher with Change Makers that carried out the study with Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
"But for children in commercial sex, the offenders are many and unknown to the child."
Data released by the Indian government shows reports of human trafficking rose by almost 20 percent in 2016 against the previous year to more than 8,000. More than 60 percent of nearly 24,000 victims rescued were children.
South Asia, with India at its centre, is seen as one of the fastest-growing regions for human trafficking globally with an estimated 40 million people living as modern slaves last year.
Campaigners say thousands of children largely from poor rural families are lured or abducted by traffickers every year in India, and sold onto pimps and brothels who force them into sexual slavery.
The demand to focus on the men who buy sex is one of a series of measures in the report by the National Coalition to Protect Our Children (NCPOC), an initiative started by Indian parliamentarian Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
"The customer is the main person who creates and perpetuates demand. Sex trafficking will not stop until customers are treated as criminals," said P.M. Nair, chair professor and research coordinator on human trafficking at TISS.
($1= 64.4600 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)
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