Give them back their childhood: Approximately fifty-three percent of children in India face some form of child sexual abuse Photograph:( Others )
Child sexual abuse in India: An urgent action plan is need of the hour
The dynamics of child sexual abuse is complex, and understanding it will keep our children safe. We are aware that sexual predators are smart and sometime the perpetrator can be someone least expected or someone we already know. To curb child sexual abuse, Indonesia has passed a controversial law which advocates chemical castration for pedophiles. In India, prior to the passage of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) in 2012, cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) were primarily dealt under Section 375 (Rape) and Section 376 (punishment of rape), Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman or a girl), Section 509 (insulting the modesty of women) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67 of Information Technology Act, 2000. The core essence of the POCSO Act are ‘gender neutral’, ‘child friendly procedure’ and ’special courts’ to exclusively handle CSA cases; it also placed ’mandatory reporting’ and ‘burden of proof’ on the accused. The idea behind formulation of POCSO was imposing ‘stringent law’ to protect the children. It was estimated then around fifty-three per cent of children in India face some forms of sexual abuse.
Recently, in a compilation of reports filed by judges of POCSO cases as well as Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) have suggested that ‘there is a serious deficiency in infrastructure’ which results in delay of disposal of cases. Furthermore, they added, it is not ‘feasible’ to follow the mandate of POCSO Act. As under the POCSO Act, cases are to be disposed within one year and victim’s statement has to be recorded within thirty days. The rise in high pendency of child sexual abuse cases in Delhi was the biggest concern of the judges. This year, it is estimated around 18.49 per cent of person accused under the POCSO Act were found guilty, whereas, in 2014, 16.44 percent of accused were convicted.
The DSLSA’s report has stated that the significant delay in disposal of cases and rise in reporting of cases have caused ‘an alarm in the mind of the general public that child victims of rape and sexual offence are not getting justice’. Hence, for effective implementation of the Act, DSLSA suggested routine legal audit along with monthly reports of 11 districts to be conducted to keep a check on POCSO cases. Other issues brought forth were constant delay in obtaining forensic reports and absence of special courts to deal with CSA cases as provided in the Act. At the moment, only Tis Hazari, Karkardooma, Rohini and Saket have one such courtroom each. They highlighted the plight of child victims; evidently, due to poor infrastructure ‘not more than two child victims can be examined, considering the amount of time that is taken to examine them’. As per the report, delays take place due to unavailability of victims or witnesses.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Bachpan Bachao Angolan (BBA) caught everyone’s attention early this year. The key issues emphasised in the PIL were ‘time-bound trial’ and ‘disposal of cases’ related to CSA. The PIL also cited National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures of 2014, and pointed out delay in the process of investigation and trial to support its claims. As per a study conducted by HAQ Centre for Child Rights in 2015, only five per cent of the questions have addressed children’s problems in both the houses of the Parliament. A total of 27,879 questions were asked in the Parliament in 2015 of which 1421 were related to children; only 24 questions were raised on the POCSO Act of 2012, child sexual abuse, child abuse and one solo question was on victim compensation.
In the latest NCRB Report of 2015, a total of 94172 cases of crimes against children were reported in India. Under the POCSO Act, 136 incest cases and 8664 other than incest cases were registered (Refer Table 6.1 and 6.7 of NCRB, 2015). BBA in their PIL highlighted the 2014 NCRB report and emphasised that trial in only 409 of a total of 8379 cases were completed. The DSLSA Member Secretary Dharmesh Sharma suggested that to urgently fix this burning issue, it is important to ‘present a true picture to the legislature, media and public and also to carry out a legal audit of the entire justice system reflecting upon the working of various stakeholders’.
It is established that children with child sexual abuse can have long-term stress related issues. Families, parents, NGOs, schools and communities can play a pivotal role in preventing child sexual abuse; educating children on inappropriate relationships, maintaining healthy boundaries, and through teaching them of their body parts and by informing them on sexual assault. Operation Nirbheek (without fear) was launched by the Delhi north-east division last year to educate children on sexual harassment and abuse. The idea behind the program was to adopt best practices and education programs to create safe environment for children. The police officials initiated interactive sessions with school children to spread awareness. They educated children through a short animated film ‘Komal’ based on the concept of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. In addition, they installed complaint boxes in schools for children to file written complaints. The local police paid weekly visits along with a female constable to address their verbal and written grievances done under the supervision of the Deputy Commissioner of Police. This program was initiated by Veenu Bansal (DCP) and it covered 270 schools of the north east district of Delhi.
We can reduce the risk of child sexual abuse by adopting preventive methods. A victim of child sexual abuse can be a boy or a girl, healthy or a disabled child. Children should not be left isolated or in a one-on-one situation with adults, do not encourage children to maintain secrecy, initiate open conversation and believe in your child’s narrative, educate them on their body safety and sex. Intervene on behalf of the child, if you notice your child has developed emotional and behavioural changes or if you suspect abuse. We must remember that child sexual abuse is an adult issue too and we are equally responsible to protect our children and safeguard their rights.