Amal* was three years old when she was sexually assaulted by her neighbour. During the assault, she suffered injuries that required three reconstructive surgeries. During the trial, Amal could easily identify her assailant, but despite her testimony, the trial court acquitted the accused on the basis that Amal was not a competent witness.
Amal is one of the many children in India who have survived sexual abuse in silence. They are unable to find justice while their assailants walk free, putting more children at risk.
Not one to lose hope, Munira*, Amal’s mother and an extraordinarily strong woman, approached us at iProbono, through HAQ Centre for Child Rights. iProbono is a non-profit network that works to provide pro bono quality legal assistance to civil society and especially to disadvantaged individuals.
We worked with lawyers from our pro bono community to file an appeal in the Delhi High Court against the trial court order. Within two months, the High Court set aside the original order and sentenced Amal’s assailant to life imprisonment.
As a result, today Munira is hopeful of a happy future for her daughter. However, Amal is just one child – a small drop in the ocean.
According to a survey conducted by World Vision India, one in two (or 50%) children face sexual abuse before they turn 18.
Through the timely intervention of committed lawyers, the gross injustice meted out to Amal was remedied. But there are still millions of children who face sexual abuse in India without any access to justice.
Social stigma, police apathy, a sluggish legal system and the sheer volume of cases assigned to public litigators are factors that deprive child survivors of sexual abuse and their families from finding justice. Children from low-income backgrounds, such as Amal, suffer the crippling inability to be heard and seen in the criminal justice system.
Following Amal’s case, iProbono formed a panel of senior lawyers from the Delhi High Court to represent child survivors of sexual abuse from disadvantaged communities.
In the last two years, this panel has been able to help 28 other children like Amal access justice through quality legal representation, without having to worry about paying a hefty fee to their lawyers. Earlier this year, we reconstituted the panel to reach more survivors of child sexual abuse across India and double that number to 56 over the next two years.
In some cases – like Amal’s – our work also helps put the offenders behind bars, creating a safer India for many more children.
We realise that in a country like India, understanding and accessing the legal and judicial systems is not always easy. Therefore, through Youth Ki Awaaz, we hope to share regular content that raises awareness around legislation, case law and constitutional provisions available to Indian citizens in different situations. In between, we also hope to share more stories like Amal’s to highlight how Indians from vulnerable sections of society have as much right as anyone else to access the legal system and justice.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at [email protected] You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.