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If Crimes Against Children Persist, The Foundation Of Our Society Will Weaken

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The monster of child sexual abuse is raising its ugly head once again with impunity. So much so, that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has decided to take suo motu action (on its own motion) to arrest the spiralling trend of child sexual abuse in India. As per data revealed by government, from January 1 to June 30 this year, 24, 212 FIRs (First Information Report) have been registered by police across India. Uttar Pradesh tops the list with the filing of 3, 457 cases of child sexual abuse.

These ghastly episodes reflect poorly upon the image of India on the world scene. What kind of uncivilized and beastly behaviour are we witnessing in our country? If our legal system, civil society and policing agencies are unable to protect the most vulnerable amongst us, then the idea of safe and secure neighbourhoods in a democratic set-up takes a severe beating. The Constitution of India, 1950 empowers the state under Article 15 (3) to make special provision for the welfare of children. Children are often referred to as the future of India. Unfortunately, the spectre of sexual abuse and violence unleashed on children in recent past paints a tragic picture of lost childhoods.

The children of India are suffering in silence and in some cases are paying with their precious lives. For criminal deviants, children are considered safe choices as they offer little or no resistance. In a case reported, the father of a survivor of child sexual abuse recounted with horror, “How many times must a three-and-a-half-year-old recount the trauma she went through? Our system is such that a child who barely knows what she ate yesterday is asked what she went through six months ago… after all those months, defense lawyers ask her ‘where did the uncle touch’, ‘where did it hurt’,” an emotional father, a daily wager in Delhi, said, while recounting his ordeal in getting justice for his minor daughter, a victim of child sexual abuse.”

Alarmingly, even young boys are at an increased risk of sexual abuse. It is even more difficult for them to come out in the open as notions of patriarchy and masculinity prevents them from reporting abuse. Boys are groomed in a particular way where ideas of toxic masculinity are ingrained in their minds. It is not uncommon to find elders speaking these views to young boys who are under their parental or guardian care and custody: “Do not be a sissy!” “Now come on! Be a man, stop crying like a girl;” “What is it with you, why don’t you eat? You are becoming stubborn day by day!

It becomes more challenging to heal such survivors of abuse as it is likely that they may carry the heavy burden of guilt and shame for years at length. There is a need to address the issue of child sexual abuse in a gender-neutral way at every level of psycho-social response.

Child Sexual Abuse And The Law

The step by the apex court to take up cases of child sexual abuse is laudable but criminal law doesn’t provide a foolproof solution, the criminal process springs into action only when a crime is committed, or to be more precise when it is reported. The journey of a crime from the stage of occurrence to reporting is also a tumultuous one. In a classic case of criminal law, identified as Gurmit Singh v. the State of Punjab (1996 AIR 1393), a 16-year-old was kidnapped while going to school and gang-raped. The survivor narrated the incident to her mother after giving her examinations at school and returning home.

During the trial, the defense tried to puncture holes in the prosecution version by pointing out the fact that the survivor narrated the details of the incident after a lapse in time and also raised questions on the manner of her response and character in general. The court connected the dots in the prosecution version and observed that, “Her informing to her mother only on return to the parental house and no one else at the examination centre prior thereto is an accord with the natural human conduct of a female. The courts must, while evaluating evidence, remain alive to the fact that in a case of rape, no self-respecting woman would come forward in a court just to make a humiliating statement against her honour such as is involved in the commission of rape on her. The inherent bashfulness of the females and the tendency to conceal outrage of sexual aggression are factors which the courts should not over-look.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse of any type are scarred for life. It may not take much effort to move a mountain but to wipe the memories of sexual abuse from the fragile mind of a child is akin to fighting a war. If child sexual abuse persists at such an alarming rate, then basically the foundation of a sickened, diseased and a fractured society is being laid in broad daylight.

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20 1989. It called upon member states to implement through necessary legal instruments the protective regime for children so that, they can lead their lives with the freedom which they deserve. Article 19 of the Convention instructs the state parties to protect the children from sexual abuse. India ratified the Convention but took many years to bring comprehensive legislation on the subject namely the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).

The Mandate Of The POCSO

The POCSO is s a comprehensive statute drafted with an aim to exorcise the ghost of child sexual abuse in India. In the year 2007, the spotlight was put on child sexual abuse when the findings of a government report shed light on the simmering crime scenario. Shockingly, the report informed us that contrary to popular perception, the percentage of young boys as victims was more than that of girl victims. A familiar theme which emerges from events of sexual abuse is that children remain vulnerable within close family circles. Now the big question is: how to prevent child sexual abuse?

The disease cannot be treated only by administering legal balm. Preventive measures at multiple fronts also need a leg up. The Parliament of India is still struggling to tame this ghost by mooting amendments to check child pornography and enhancing the punishment in cases of aggressive sexual assault. Punishment now stands enhanced to the death penalty in cases of aggravated sexual assault.

The statute aims to provide a check mechanism at every possible place in society wherever a child may possibly be abused. It distinguishes ‘sexual assault’ from ‘sexual harassment’ and separately enumerates law to check the rising use of a child for propagating pornography. It provides an elaborate procedure for reporting of offences under the legislation and also provides for setting up of special courts. The statute is designed to combat the menace of child sexual abuse in its myriad forms but legislation alone will not check the rising trend of child sexual abuse.

Rehabilitating Survivors: A Long Winding Road

Studies point out that the rehabilitation of survivors of child sexual abuse requires a sustained process of healing which may require medication for mental and physical damage. Sexual abuse wreaks havoc on a child’s emotional state. Abuse has many faces and it has been pointed out in a Human Rights Watch report of February 2013 that in many cases a survivor may actually take abuse as a case of heightened attention by an adult (in most cases who is a close relation, say immediate or immediate extended family) as the maturity of the child is still infantile.

The report severely indicts the law enforcement agencies by pointing out entrenched biases within the legal system which hamper the course of justice through case study analysis. There is also a need to overhaul the childcare centres for children as these are turning into dens of vice as happened in the case of Muzaffarpur in Bihar where girl children were sexually abused in a shelter home run by an NGO. The government urgently needs to do an audit exercise to take stock as to the nature and intent of these shady mushrooming NGOs.

Survivors of child sexual abuse have to walk down a long winding road towards rehabilitation. There are long term effects of child sexual abuse on the psyche of a survivor. Needless to emphasize, effects can last for a lifetime. Through education and counselling, survivors may be revived back to a lead a normal life and healthy life. The judicial intervention has a role to play. Despite a strong law to punish child sexual offenders, it has been observed that many cases are resulting in acquittals due to the long drawn process of trial which makes the survivor weary and they turn hostile in court or goes into withdrawal. Now to fast track cases of child sexual abuse, over 1000 fast tracks are proposed to be set up. Let us hope that with the establishment of more number of special courts we may witness the wheel of justice moving for the better.

As a parent or guardian one should look out for these warning signs to detect a case of sexual abuse in a child:

  • Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality
  • The child is becoming withdrawn
  • Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive
  • Knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age

These signs are not exhaustive and a parent or guardian needs to watch out for discernible changes in behaviour. The correct course of action upon detecting sexual abuse is to take give the child immediate medical and psychological counsel and reporting the matter to police.

POCSO Act, 2012 also makes a provision for referring a child for counselling by either a doctor or police official. Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare further instructs a counsellor or medical advisor to be fully responsive to the special needs of a survivor of child sexual abuse. Every child is an asset to the nation. Sincere steps must be taken by all stakeholders to restore the stolen childhoods of survivors of child sexual abuse. A child puts a lot of faith in this mortal world. We need to make an effort to ensure that this faith remains innocent and pure before adulthood drowns it with reason. In the words of Emily Dickinson, an American poet,

The child’s faith is new-

Whole-like his principle

Wide-like the sunrise

On fresh eyes-

Never has a doubt

Laughs at a scruple-

Believes all sham!

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: sdfgsdfgasdr/Flickr.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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