There Should be Zero Tolerance to Child Sexual Abuse

Two recent incidents bring to the fore the disturbing statistics with respect to the safety and sorry condition of minor girls in India.

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Publication: Haribhoomi, page 6.

By Alka Arya

(Translated from Hindi)

Two recent incidents involving the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Delhi’s Badarpur area and another case wherein a fourteen-year-old girl committed suicide after being raped by her neighbour in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh once again bring to the fore the disturbing statistics with respect to the safety and sorry condition of minor girls in the country. For India which is home to 440 million children, child sexual abuse is an extremely sensitive issue. At the same time, it is concerning that not many parents, teachers and the general public are aware of the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012. In one of the earlier surveys conducted by the Government, it emerged that 53 per cent of the children interviewed reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse. In most cases, abusers were persons known to the child whom their parents trusted. Such incidents are not only confined to urban areas alone as even villages aren’t untouched. India and the world need to address child sexual abuse on a priority basis.

An incident of rape was reported recently from New Delhi’s Badarpur area where an eight-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a 30-year-old man. There were bite marks all over the victim’s body who lived with her mother. The crime took place when the victim’s mother had gone to a factory for work, leaving her alone at home. The accused entered the home, stuffed the victim’s mouth with a cloth to stop her from screaming and raped her. Police arrested the accused and sent his blood samples for tests. It came to the fore that the accused was HIV Positive, and he very well knew it. In another incident, a 14-year-old rape victim in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, committed suicide. The minor was raped on 22 May by a youth living in her neighbourhood. She was alone at her home when she was raped. She narrated her ordeal to her family members but the latter did not register a complaint against the accused. Instead, the accused's family members reached the victim’s home on 26th May seeking a compromise. They wanted an undertaking from the girl's family that there won’t be any case filed in the future and that the accused would marry the girl after she attained the marriageable age. However, the girl wanted her parents to get an FIR lodged against the accused, but in vain. Distraught at the sight of her parents trying to reach a compromise with the accused’s family, the minor committed suicide even as the accused’s family sat in the next room. After the suicide, the victim’s brother informed media that the Police booked the accused under Section 376 and 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Both the incidents – the rape of the eight-year-old girl in Delhi and suicide by the rape victim in Uttar Pradesh – once again bring to the fore the disturbing statistics with respect to the safety and sorry condition of minor girls in the country. In the current societal structure, if the offenders happen to belong to influential families, bringing them to book becomes even more difficult. In villages, it becomes tough when influential people intervene to protect the culprits. For India which is home to 440 million children along with a significant youth population, child sexual abuse is an extremely sensitive issue.. A government-sponsored survey found that more than 53 per cent children in the country faced one or more forms of sexual abuse. Most of the abusers were known to the children and a significant number of them also enjoyed the trust of the victims’ parents.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or that violates the laws. At the same time, it is concerning that not many parents, teachers and the general public are aware of the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012. Indeed, it is highly disturbing to understand that the society at large is not fully aware about the magnitude of the challenge posed by child sexual abuse. While hearing a case, a Delhi Court once observed that lack of awareness is one of the reasons behind rising incidents of sexual offences against children. People are not aware about POCSO. They have no fear of the law in this regard. Notably, the POCSO Act, 2012 was brought in after a lot of struggles. It was promulgated to provide protection to children against sexual offence, sexual abuse and pornographic material. The POCSO Act also aims to protect children from inappropriate touch or being approached with wrong intent. It applies to all children under the age of 18 years. One of the features of the law is that it is gender-neutral. It means that the victims as well as the offenders could be both male or female. Children who happen to be the victims of sexual abuse during their childhood tend to suffer from the trauma for long. They live in depression while many even commit suicide. In many cases, Courts acquit the accused of sexual offences for want of appropriate evidence. The rate of conviction in such cases is abysmally low. Systemic issues in our judiciary, shortage of staff, insensitivity and lack of training of the officials dealing with child sexual abuse cases are among the reasons for the low conviction rate.

It is noteworthy that sexual assault of children is a global problem. As per ‘Together for Girls’, an international organization, 120 million girls and young women under 20 years of age have suffered some form of forced sexual contact. One in every fifth girl suffered sexual abuse when she was very young. The ratio for the same among boys is one in ten. Elsa D Silva, a member of the organization, calls for breaking the silence to break the chain of violence and mobilize people and institutions. He said that there is a need to collect nation-wise data and work with governments, institutions and individuals in addressing child sexual abuse.

A global campaign, Brave Movement to End Childhood Sexual Violence, has also been launched in this regard. An appeal has been made to take steps to stop incidents of child sexual abuse. Several Indian institutions and activists responded to the appeals which include providing protection to children and adolescents against sexual offences, treatment of the survivors, ensuring justice to the victims etc. Several notable institutions, including IIT Mandi, Indian Institute of Sciences (IIS), Benaras Hindu University (BHU) are signatories to the campaign. It also includes lists of child protection authorities. There is a special provision under Article 15(3) in the Indian Constitution under which states have been authorized to make provisions for ensuring child protection. Further, India is also a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly under Article 3. Under the provision, the onus of child protection lies on the parents, the school and the Government. India as well as other countries need to be sensitive toward child sexual abuse and needs to adopt a serious approach to tackle the problem.

Publication: Haribhoomi (All editions)

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