India rape
Indian students of Saint Joseph Degree college participate in an anti-rape protest in Hyderabad Getty Images file photo

More than half of all children in India have faced sexual abuse, a top judge has warned, calling for an increase in the pace of convictions under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act.

Honourable justice Mohit Shah, chief justice of the Bombay High Court, said: "More than 53% children in India have faced sexual abuse."

He added that in Maharashtra, a state in the western region of the country, only 38 cases out of 198 files have received conviction to date.

"We also need a better implementation of the act at a grassroots level to ensure that a level of sensitivity is adopted while dealing with the victims, as the law and its procedures can intimidate a child," he said, as reported by the Times of India.

"The procedures and environment need to be made more child friendly if we want to increase conviction in child abuse cases. The burden to prove innocence must lie on the offender and not the child," Shah added.

The Indian Parliament passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill in 2011 and the legislation was introduced in May 2012. The act incorporates a variety of offences and criminalises immodesty against children.

The majority of sex crimes against children go unreported, yet the Indian media have dubbed the dramatic rise in reported incidents an epidemic. Between 2001 and 2011, there have been around 48,000 cases, with an increase of 336% in reported cases since 2001.

In July, the issue came to light once again with reports that a six-year-old schoolgirl was raped by two staff members at a prominent school in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

Ujjwal Uke, the principle secretary of the Department of Women and Child Development in the Maharashtra Government, said that the state has zero tolerance towards child sex offenders

"Sex offenses involving children are crime against humanity as they scar the victims for life. Sexual abuse is more organised in nature, with perpetrators choosing their victims carefully."

Uke added that the government will ensure that immediate action is taken in such cases, with a focus on delivering justice to the victim.

"While we chase the law and policy for better implementation, the first order of our priority should be ensuring the safety, stability and health of the victim."

India's cabinet this week approved a bill to allow children over 16 to be tried as adults for crimes like rape and murder, following louder calls for stricter punishment for minors since the 2012 Delhi gang rape.

A17-year-old was among those convicted of gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, who was dubbed Nirbhaya - meaning "fearless" - by the media.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has promised a zero tolerance approach on crimes against women, but violence and discrimination against women remain deeply entrenched in society.