The precarious situation of the Indian girl-child is making headlines once more. Indeed, the beginning of the week saw activists calling on the authorities to protect girls in state-run institutions who are all too vulnerable to sexual abuse. The latest incident occurred over the weekend when some 36 schoolgirls in Bihar were attacked by a mob of teenage boys — some of whom were accompanied by their parents — when they dared to stand up to eve-teasing; that misleading term for what is more aptly described as sexual harassment. All the girls, aged 12-14 years, received hospital treatment. Kasturba Ghandi Balika Vidyalaya is a government-run residential school for girls. It is home to some of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities, including scheduled castes, religious minorities and those living below the poverty line. And while police have thus far arrested nine (including one woman) in connection with the violence, activists worry that families will be discouraged from keeping their daughters in school. Yet the most disturbing fallout of this episode is the message it sends to young girls. That is, the very real cost of defending themselves against sexual harassment is gendered violence of this sort. In this way, an entire generation of Indian girls risks being systematically silenced by the time they grow up. The fact that parents were involved in the organised beatings sends an equally dangerous signal to young boys. One that speaks of a male entitlement that overrides the right of any young girl or woman to say no. Thus when viewed against this backdrop, it becomes apparent that the law alone cannot act as a deterrent. Not even this April’s amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) that introduced the death penalty for the rape of children below the age of 12. For no other reason than those who commit such crimes believe that they will not get caught. Or if they do, their word against that of the girl-child will naturally carry more weight. All of which means that local authorities must play their part in ensuring the safety of girls residing in their institutions. For Bihar is still reeling from this summer whereby some 34 girls aged 7-18 years were raped at a children’s shelter. Among those arrested were a child protection officer as well as a member of the government’s social welfare department. Thus the way forward has to be increased physical security for children as well as ending the practice of putting men in positions of power over the girl-child. For it is unacceptable that in the world’s largest democracy one child is sexually assaulted every 15 minutes. * Published in Daily Times, October 10th 2018.