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Is India Doing Enough To Curb The Menace Of Child Abuse?

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In our country, the picture is no less gloomy – two out of every three children face physical or emotional abuse. Image via Getty

Child abuse is the one of the biggest problem that plagues our society and yet, we have done very little to protect our children. At times, this abuse is laughed off and dismissed as part of culture, tradition, and in the name of protecting the “honor” of the family. When physical or emotional abuse takes place, parents often advise children to keep quiet leaving the child hurt, damaged and traumatized. The little child who had gathered the courage to tell his elders about the incident is quietened—while the perpetrators of the crime continue their daily lives living in the same home, in the community and on the internet.

This culture of silence and impunity that is offered to predators in all guises, works to protect them as they prey on more little kids. Our communities are structured in such a way that it turns a blind eye to the abuses of the powerful, instead blaming the victims for tempting the abuser to violate them.

If we look at the world today, four out of five children face violent physical discipline at home. Seven out of ten children are victims of emotional violence from parents. In our country, the picture is no less gloomy—two out of every three children face physical or emotional abuse. About 88.6% of children are physically abused by parents. Here is a look at some child abuse statistics:

  • 27% of all child abuse survivors have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 10% have panic disorder
  • 8% have attempted suicide
  • 6% suffer from depression
  • 6% have alcohol and drug dependence/abuse

The Draft Child Protection Bill:

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has recently released the Draft Child Protection Policy. It is an extremely important step considering that even in a social audit conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development from 2015 to March 2017, about 1,575 children were found to have been abused and were living in shelter homes. Furthermore, the Supreme Court of India in its recent judgments, said that the existing mechanism was “not adequate” to curb incidents of sexual abuse of children and girls at shelter homes and asked the Ministry of Women and Child Development to explain it while formulating the child protection policy.

This Bill will be the first policy dedicated to the protection of children, which until now was only a part of the broader National Child Policy, 2013. It aims at providing a safe and conducive environment for all children through the prevention and response to child abuse, exploitation and neglect. The Bill aims to provide a framework for all institutions, and organizations including corporate and media houses, government or private sector to understand their responsibilities in relation to safeguarding and protecting children, and promoting the welfare of children individually and collectively, and having zero tolerance for child abuse and exploitation.

It also emphasises accountability that institutions should designate a staff member to ensure that procedures are in place to ensure the protection of children as well as to report any abuse. The Bill introduces a complaint procedure whereby any individual who suspects physical, sexual or emotional abuse must report it to the helpline number 1098, police or a child welfare committee.

A Child Friendly Module

Institutions and organisations working directly with children must develop age appropriate modules and materials for orientating children on child abuse, online safety and services available for them.

Most importantly, it emphasises a humane approach, according to which organisations who undertake research and collect data on children, directly from children or indirectly from parents/community must ensure that children are not harmed or traumatised in any way during the process. All research staff must be trained on ethical practices and child friendly procedures.

The Bill intends to act as deterrence to child labour and hopes that corporate houses and industries must establish and strengthen monitoring mechanisms to ensure that industries and their subsidiaries are not resorting to child labour in any form.

Once it becomes a law, the creation of child friendly zones in all places for public dealing and safe spaces for mothers to keep their infants will hopefully help in curbing child abuse.

Current Legal Provisions For Safeguarding Children In India:

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, provides for strengthened provisions for both children in need of care and protection, and children in conflict with the law.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POSCO), protects the children against offences like sexual abuse, pornography and provides a child friendly system for trial against the perpetrators.

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act 1994, prohibits prenatal diagnostic techniques for the determination of the sex of the foetus.

The Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005, provides for the constitution of National & State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights and Children’s Courts to provide speedy trial for offences against children.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, prohibits detention of children till they complete elementary education.

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, prohibits solemnisation of child marriage.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016: widens the scope against child labour and provides for stricter punishments for violations.

National Policy of Children 2013, has four priority areas – survival, health and nutrition; education and development; child protection and child participation

National Action Plan for Children (NPAC) 2016, links the 2013 policy to actionable strategies under its priority areas.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child.

Till now 0.5% of the total budget of almost 648 crores is allocated for child protection and welfare. A social worker attached to a protection unit is paid 8000-15000.

In spite of these provisions, India, like the rest of the world continues to battle the problem of child abuse. The worst part is of course the fact that even now a significant number of child abuse cases are not reported because of taboos around child sex abuse and mistrust of authorities. At times, even doctors have failed to diagnose signs of abuse, and injuries are often thought to be accidental. When reported, the weakness of our criminal justice system has ensured that the perpetrators of the crime are not punished and go scot-free. If we want to encourage more people to report it then there is need to create a well-oiled system so that victims are not forced to re-visit their trauma. It is time we look at this Bill with optimism and support the policy makers in coming up with a sound justice system for the survivors of child abuse.

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 dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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