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:
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.