Child sexual abuse has become a serious concern, particularly, in the wake of brutal episodes marked by extreme torture, rape and murder of innocent children. An issue that was earlier viewed as a minor problem due to underreporting and, even, misreporting in several instances. However, the reporting pattern in cases of child abuse was witnessing a drastic change over the course of time. With passing years the rise in the numbers of child abuse cases has started to bring it under the scanner of most challenging national issues that India is facing at present. Cases of Kathua, Dadri that drew attention nationwide on the serious flaws in laws that failed to protect children. In Chennai when a girl who was hearing impaired was targeted by 22 men and abused for months revealed to what extent child abuse has grown not just in number but in terms of severity over the period of ignorance and neglect demonstrated by concerned authorities over such matters.
Even more shocking was when news reports drew readers’ attention to the plight of few months old children, subjected to rape by someone known to the family. There is no dearth of evidence that indicates girls and boys being abused in their own homes, in some cases, by victim’s close relative and in others where the perpetrator had turned out to be victim’s own father. A survey undertaken by the ministry of women and child development carried out by NGO Prayas in association with UNICEF and Save the Children observed that around 50% children in India were exposed to various forms of physical abuse. Further substantiated with statistical data released by the National Crimes Record Bureau suggesting that 94.8% of the child rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.
There are instances of girls being thrown into the vicious circle of prostitution. Many of whom are caught up in these dark occupations, sold and moved from one place to another and many unaccounted girls who succumb to abusive conditions they are subjected to. The case of baby Falak(2012), even today, serves as a living memory of how an innocent child can be mistreated and subjected to an extreme form of barbarism. A severely battered baby with human bite marks all over her body, injured arms and partially smashed head. In her crucial battle to survive, she suffered meningitis during the treatment and a cardiac arrest that finally put her to rest. This episode and many other such instances serve as constant reminders that proactive steps need to be taken in cases where the victim is completely defenceless.
The need for public awareness of child sex trafficking has become an important human rights issue. The illegal profit-making business has entrenched so deep that have rendered our values systems completely hollow and insignificant. Little girls are abducted and sold in these markets. Poverty is a major factor which impedes families' ability to provide adequate shelter, medical care, and nutrition for their children, which at times results in child abandonment. Further giving a passage for notoriety and illegal works to operate.
Early work of C. Henry Kempe, Child Maltreatment: Contemporary issues in research and policy brought attention to child sexual abuse as a serious medical, developmental and social problem. It is a serious issue that cannot be dealt, waiting for such incidents to occur again and loosely drafting measures to respond in such situations. An insight into the issue of Child sexual abuse familiarizes us with different factors that come into play and by merely focussing on one aspect that is the medical or psychological condition of the perpetrator does not appear sufficient to best handle the worsening situation of abuse, as is by a unilateral emphasis on making new laws. India has a diverse setup of people following different religions, speaking different languages and following different cultures. The practice of Child marriage, domestic violence, intimate partner violence though prohibited by law are still prevalent because they are so deeply ingrained in the patriarchal systems in which we live.
Customs such as child marriage, Devadasi system that makes young girls dedicate their life to God are some practices which make young girls more prone to child sexual abuse. These customs act as social sanctions that give liberty to men to mistreat and abuse women in every possible way. These are the customs that have been engraved so deep into our practices and traditions that it cannot be cut off entirely from our lives, despite wrong implications. Devadasi system that is a prominent part of core customs in the south witnesses exploitation of young girls who are offered to the temples to serve the Gods as a servant, making her vulnerable to sexual abuse. In fact, the supporters of child rights have advocated for the inclusion of a direct reference in POCSO law to any such abusive cultural practices that violate the dignity of young girls in the name of custom. Moreover, many supportive ideas can be absorbed and put into action to give more meaning to enforced laws.
It necessarily calls for supplementing initiatives that can be taken prior to any case of sexual abuse getting reported. Volunteering with NGOs which work at the grassroots level, making workshops mandatory on sexual abuse at the workplace, residential colonies and other places involving community participation. Inviting nukkad Natak teams to schools and universities to instil more awareness regarding child sexual abuse and its detrimental effects on the life of the victim. Together with nongovernmental organizations, India’s media has played a leading role in increasing awareness of child sexual abuse in the country. As well as highlighting the enormous scale of the problem, journalists have also exposed failings in the system to protect children, putting considerable pressure on the government to act.
In its recent step towards countering the issue of child sexual abuse, the cabinet has cleared the passage for enacting the law of giving death penalty for raping minors below the age of 12 years. Also, as per news reports, this provision might be added by amending POCSO ACT(2012). So far, four states including Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh have introduced the death penalty for rapes of a minor. However, it is necessary to realize that amendments in present laws will only curb the problems as long as efforts are made towards proper implementation by providing necessary aid to the victims, speedy disposal of cases, raising more awareness by bodies working on local levels, effective cooperation between government and non-governmental bodies.
The past inadequacies found in IPC laws to protect the children paved way for POCSO ACT that came about in 2012 to protect children against child sexual offences in India. Followed by E-POCSO for filing a complaint online for the ease of victims is another step taken by the state to simplify the procedure of complaining that victim and family often hesitate to file. POCSO has diversified its approaches over time with special edition of books and magazines for its inclusion in the curriculum of schools which started off as a pilot project in districts of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, is, again, a remarkable step to aware children about forms of sexual abuses and how they can defend themselves if caught in such vulnerable situations.
Also, in view of recent developments, the National Crime Record Bureau has started collecting data on online child sexual abuse in the country. NCRB started this work from 2017 on cases registered under section 67B of Information Technology(Amendment)Act,2008 that deals with publishing or transmitting sexually explicit material on a child in electronic form which is liable for punishment. The parliamentary panel pointed out that, overwhelmingly underreported cases of child sexual abuse was due to the stigma of guardians to not involve police in these matters.
Stigmatization gives way to unnecessary obstacles and further victimizes the child. Studies dealing with child sexual abuse indicate that many victims of abuse are traumatized by their experiences and may suffer both short and long term ramifications of their abuse. While abuse experiences have numerous negative consequences for children, counselling is frequently effective in helping children reduce their trauma-related symptoms and improve their well-being. Family secrecy about child sexual abuse is harmful to victims, and adults must be mandated to properly report sexual abuse.
Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse followed by steps to eliminate the victimization of the child through speedy trials and instituting more sensitive staff dealing with such cases supplemented with spaces for more social awareness among people can certainly avoid the feeling of fear, shame and society’s negative attitude towards issues of abuse and harassment. A framed set of laws appear impactful on paper, but, in practice a lot has to be done from implementing these laws to undertaking research in the field, in the process, identifying social and cultural factors that are found to be corroding our values.
It is important to consider the cultural context and the unique challenges surrounding issues of poverty, child labour and other forms that give way to the exploitation of children. An effective mechanism with follow-ups and periodic reporting on variations in child sexual abuse and its prevalence rates across states and regions in India is much required, given the severity of sex crimes against minors. More significantly, insights into the immoral behaviour reflected by individuals, sexual offences committed under patriarchal notions of male dominance and inherently abusive cultural practices further create extensions of forms of child abuse and violence. Acknowledging the loopholes to adequately understand the ways in which children are at present abused, compels us to rethink and revisit the approaches adopted so far. Bringing a change in addressing this issue can provide a head start for developing a much better, tactful way of comprehending the issue of child sexual abuse, particularly, in the context of India.
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Biswas , Soutik. (2018, April 17). Why India’s rape crisis shows no signs of abating. BBC. Retrieved from, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43782471
Carson ,David & Foster, Jennifer &Tripathi, Nishi.(2013). Child Sexual Abuse in India: Current Issues and research. Retrieved from, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271951215_Child_Sexual_Abuse_in_India_Current_Issues_and_Research
Nair,S.N.,Parsekar S. S., Singh, M. M. (2014 October). An Epidemiological Overview of Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311357/#!po=37.5000
Singh, Vijaita.(2018, March 10). The Hindu. NCRB to collate data on online child sexual abuse. Retrieved from, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ncrb-to-collate-data-on-online-child-sexual-abuse/article23035536.ece
Children most unsafe at home: parents, kin, neighbours biggest perpetrators of sexual abuse. (2017, September 14).The New Indian Express. Retrieved from http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2017/sep/14/children-most-unsafe-at-home-parents-kin-neighbours-biggest-perpetrators-of-sexual-abuse-1657163.html
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