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Four children sexually abused in Kerala every day

Four children, on an average, are sexually abused in Kerala every day while the number of sexual offences against children has doubled in the past three years, data from the state crime records bureau show.

As many as 1,002 cases were registered under the Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences Act in 2013 as against 1,569 cases in 2015. Police records also show that 790 children were sexually assaulted in five months this year. However, only 53 accused in child sexual abuse cases have been convicted in the state from November 2012 to December 2015.

Senior police officers said that ineffective enforcement of law was a major reason for this surge in cases.

"The fear of getting caught is the only thing that can stop habitual offenders. As many perpetrators think that they can get away with such an offence, they continue with such an offence, the their crimes till they are caught," said SP Zakaria George, state crime records bureau.

The former human rights commission investigator said that in most cases, the culprit is a relative, teacher or a priest in the locality. "I remember a teacher in Thrissur who was convicted for molesting a child and it turned out that he was the best teacher at that school. We have seen assaults happen even at religious centres, like madrasas and Christian Sunday schools.There are instances of temple priests molesting children within the sanctum sanctorum," he said.

Officers pointed out that more cases have come to light due to the active involvement of NGOs like Childline. Childline coordinator Aneesh S, who has been handling such cases, said that it was hard task for the child to understand their trauma. "Many times, children deny a straight question - whether he/she was molested. After proper counselling they tell real stories. Hence straightforward questioning style adopted by the police won't work," he said.

But what is more shocking is the low conviction rate in such cases. Data from the state commission for protection of child rights (SCPCR) showed a high rate of acquittal in few cases that were tried.

Of the 3,951 cases registered from November 2012 till December 2015 under the Pocso Act, only 53 accused were convicted. Kochi city police commissioner, MP Dinesh said that hostile witnesses and lack of cooperation from the family of the victim were the reason for the high acquittal rates. He added that the high acquittal rate was a troubling fact since criminals would become bolder sensing a chance.

"The lackadaisical attitude of police, who fail to collect enough evidence while preparing the chargesheet, is the reason why many get away with the crime," an officer said. Experts pointed out that the lack of special courts in every district - as stipulated by the Pocso Act - is one reason for the high pendency of cases. Even after establishing special courts in Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram, the situation has not changed. However, in other districts the situation is worse.

In Kozhikode - where Pocso cases are heard at sessions court - only four of the 375 cases registered between 2012 and December 2015 were heard and settled in court. In all four cases, the accused were acquitted.

In Thiruvananthapuram, there were convictions in two cases though trial was completed in 24 cases. In Ernakulam, the figure was a mere 11 though the trial was completed in 64 cases. "The attitude of investigators, prosecutors and investigating officers is one of the reasons for the accused walking free without punishment," said Sandhya J, member, state commission for protection of child rights.

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Bahrain revokes citizenships of 31 Shi’a activists

Manama (AFP) – Bahraini authorities have revoked the citizenships of 31 Shi’a activists, among them two former members of parliament, for having “undermined state security,” state news agency BNA reported Wednesday.

The names of the 31 activists, including brothers Jawad and Jalal Fairuz, both ex-MPs who represented the major Shi’a Al-Wefaq bloc, were listed in the report, which quoted an interior ministry statement.

Also named was Ali Mashaima, son of prominent activist Hassan Mashaima who is head of the radical Shi’a opposition movement Haq and who is serving a life sentence for allegedly plotting against the monarchy.

The government move comes after Bahrain late last month banned all protests and gatherings to ensure “security is maintained,” after clashes between Shi’a-led demonstrators and security forces in the Sunni-ruled country.

The Gulf state has experienced unrest since March last year when the authorities crushed protests led by the Shi’a Muslim majority.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, 80 people have died in Bahrain since the violence erupted on February 14 last year.

Hundreds of people were arrested when the security forces, aided by troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia, crushed the uprising within a month, while many activists, including some whose names appear on Wednesday’s list, were tried in special military courts set up at the time.

Another former MP and leading Al-Wefaq member, Matar Matar, told AFP that “many named [on the list] were acquitted by a military court” after being charged with harming state security.

Others named on the list are currently living abroad, according to opposition sources.

Tension has been running high in the kingdom following a spate of bombings on Monday in the capital Manama which killed two Asian expatriates. Four people have been arrested in connection with the bombings.

King Hamad ordered Tuesday “the swift arrest of the terrorists who carried out the recent terrorist acts in Bahrain” and urged citizens to help “bring them to justice so they receive their punishment over this appalling act.”

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Death toll rises in Ukraine, fresh warnings of civil war

AFP – The death toll from a military offensive in a flashpoint town in east Ukraine rose to at least 34, officials said Tuesday, amid fresh warnings of civil war and the shutdown of a major airport in the region.

“Chaos and the risk of civil war” are now looming in Ukraine, said French President Francois Hollande, reflecting a frantic European push under way for a diplomatic solution before it is too late.

There are fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could yet order an invasion into his ex-Soviet neighbour under the guise of a “peacekeeping” mission.

But the US general commanding NATO’s military operations, Philip Breedlove, said Russian special forces the West believes are already deployed covertly “may be able to accomplish his [Putin’s] objectives in eastern Ukraine” without the need to send in troops.

Kiev and its Western backers see Moscow’s main aims as making sure Ukraine’s east holds a planned “referendum” on Sunday calling for autonomy, and sabotaging all possibility of a nationwide presidential election two weeks later.

With those deadlines ticking closer, Ukraine’s authorities on Monday stepped up their offensive to crush rebels holed up in Slavyansk, a flashpoint town of more than 110,000 people that is the epicentre of the insurgency.

“Four of our fighters were killed and 20 were wounded” there in fierce fighting on Monday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his official Facebook page.

“According to our estimates over 30 terrorists were killed and dozens were wounded,” he said.

In a sign of how well-armed and trained the pro-Russian fighters are, on Monday they shot down a helicopter gunship near the town – their third since the assault on the town began last week.

An AFP reporter inside Slavyansk said fighting had not yet reached the centre of town, but basic foodstuffs and other items were running increasingly short. Locals hostile to Kiev’s government have strewn tree trunks and tyres across the streets to slow any army advance.

Ukraine’s interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, meanwhile, appointed his acting army chief permanently to the post. He has already put his armed forces on combat alert and brought back conscription in preparation for a possible Russian invasion.

He has said that Moscow’s meddling means “war is in effect being waged against us”.

Separately on Tuesday, all flights in and out of Donetsk – a regional industrial hub of more than one million people – were suspended, according to airport authorities, who gave no reason for the action.

Russia, which belatedly owned up to deploying its military to Crimea ahead of that region’s own hastily organised independence referendum, continues to deny its special forces are active in east Ukraine.

Instead it says the insurgency there is a spontaneous rejection of the Ukrainian government that came to power in February, after Kiev street protests forced out the pro-Kremlin president. And it accuses the Ukrainian authorities of “waging war on their own people”.

Russian state media, seen in east Ukraine, constantly refer to the new administration as being run by “fascists” who embrace a Nazi-style ideology.

That propaganda has struck a nerve in the southern port city of Odessa, where dozens of pro-Russian activists died in a horrific fire last Friday started during clashes with pro-Ukrainian militants, some of whom were ultranationalist extremists.

Funerals took place Tuesday for those killed in the violence.

The Nazi evocations will also likely come to the fore on Friday, when Ukraine – like Russia – observes a holiday commemorating the Soviet victory over wartime Germany.

Putin, according to Russian reports, could make a triumphant visit to annexed Crimea on that day, after overseeing a parade of Russian military might on the Red Square in Moscow.

With violence and divisions deepening, the West is pulling out all stops to avert open war.

The United States and the European Union are exerting some sanctions pressure on targeted individuals and firms in Russia.

Washington says they will be expanded to punishment of whole sectors of Russia’s slowing economy if Ukraine’s 25 May presidential election is prevented from taking place.

Moscow has said such a poll would be “absurd” given the spiralling violence.

“There would be chaos and the risk of civil war” if the vote does not take place, the French president said Tuesday in a joint television and radio interview.

“Pressure must be put [on Russia] by all of Europe and by the United States through sanctions,” Hollande told BFMTV and RMC radio.

Thirty foreign ministers – including from Russia and Ukraine – were discussing the escalating violence at a Council of Europe meeting in Vienna on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart were in the Austrian capital, along with Britain’s William Hague.

Hague was to travel later Tuesday to Kiev, where the Ukrainian parliament will discuss the crisis in a closed-door meeting.

“Russia seems to be intent on a course of preventing and disrupting those elections. That is wrong,” Hague told reporters in Vienna.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has also offered to help mediate a solution before the crisis “spins out of control”.

In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry was to hold talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Didier Burkhalter, was due in Moscow on Wednesday.

Germany is pushing for a second peace conference in Geneva after Russia declared dead an initial agreement aimed at defusing the crisis on 17 April.

Russia warned in a foreign ministry report Monday that the unrest was now “fraught with such destructive consequences for Europe’s peace, stability and democratic development that it is absolutely necessary to prevent it”.

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