Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi on Wednesday (January 18) wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) requesting it to amend the current visa format so that entry of foreign nationals convicted of child abuse to India can be restricted.
Gandhi wrote on Twitter: "Have requested Smt @SushmaSwaraj ji to revise visa format so foreign nationals with criminal record of child abuse don't enter India. At present, foreign nationals do not have to declare their record of criminal prosecution for visas to travel to India. Have requested that Indian visa format should include a declaration of criminal record."
The move came a couple of days after Maneka held day-long discussions with representatives of NGOs and other ministries at the 'National Alliance against Online Child Sexual Abuse' on Monday (Jan 16). Several activists pressed for steps to combat child sex abuse, especially online, and protect children from sex offenders.
A ministry official told the Indian Express that an NGO which works on child abuse in South India pointed out how foreigners abuse children in India and then flee the country without getting convicted.
"People who travel from country to country with the sole objective of abusing kids can be contained through checks and balances, such as passports. However, apart from visa and passport norms, we also need a robust mechanism of managing child sex offenders wherein we bar persons with such convictions and ensure that they do not come in contact with children. This is something that the UK practices," Vidya Reddy from Tulir, an organisation which works on the prevention of child sexual abuse, said. Vidya was present at the conference.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 in the UK keeps a record of people prohibited to work with children and/or vulnerable adults. Those who work with vulnerable groups have to register and undergo an advanced vetting process with criminal sanctions for non-compliance under the Act.
A few years ago, Belgian national Joseph Archangel fled to India after he was convicted of child sex abuse in his country. He even abused children at Kannur in Kerala while working as a football coach, according to local media reports.
Paul Meekin, a British national, was accused of abusing schoolchildren in Bengaluru while serving as their principal in 2012. He fled India using a false passport only to be traced in Kuwait where he was teaching in two schools.
Maneka had also written to the MEA in 2015 to change the passport rules by dropping the complusory spouse's name so that single parents can also apply. This change was a part of the new passport rules that the MEA had announced last month.