As per the recent statistics, India is second most populous country in the world and home to almost 17% of the total population. 19% of the to`tal children reside within territory India, and constitute 42% of the Indian population. However, what’s troubling is the figure that out of these children almost 50% are in dire need to care and protection. When India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it promised to protect its children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse by bringing about prospective and sustainable legislations.
When we try to understand what is meant by Abuse and neglect of a child, we find that it is defined by UNICEF as “injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child”. World Health Organisation (WHO) further adds to its types by classifying it as – physical, mental, emotional, psychological or in the form of neglect or exploitation. These are the acts that brings about circumstances which can negate the health of a child specifically, also welfare, and safety at large.
Child abuse isn’t class defined or sector prevalent, in its various forms can be found everywhere in India – from urban to rural homes, from the homes of the rich to that of the poor, and even in the streets and educational institutes. Wiping out child abuse in India isn’t a simple task, but rather requires a complex strategy that will require multi-stake holder support to achieve its desired objective. This article aims to analyse the current legal provisions safe guarding children from sexual abuse, the impact of such abuse on a child’s mental state and throws light on general procedure which should be adopted to report cases and fulfil our obligations as responsible citizens of this nation.
Sexual abuse is when any child or young person is lured into being a part of sexual activities which is way beyond their years of age. Even if there is no force used, of any kind, it is still sexual abuse since it involves a young child who does not understand what is happening to them, and how wrong it is. There is not just one or two ways in which a sexual activity is carried out. Sexual abuse is said to happen to any child when the activities taking place are that of rape, touching the child, performing sexual activities in front of the child, showing pornographic images/videos to the child, undressing the child for sexual gratification, showing one’s genitals to the child, and encouraging the child to behave in a way that is sexually inappropriate.Such abuse leaves a child utterly confused and in most cases, horrified and scared, because they don’t understand what is happening to them. This fear, along with the constant plea of their perpetrators to keep the abuse a secret, causes the child to go through the horror in silence. Undergoing sexual abuse as a child can lead to various problems for the child in the long-run. Such psychological trauma leads children to grow up with several trust issues, decision-making issues, relationship issues, and an inappropriate sex life from a very early age or the complete absence of sex altogether.
If a child is unable to speak up about their sexual abuse, it can still be noticed from their behavioural patterns. Provided, that the parents or guardians of the child are able to pin-point the signs of such abuse, it is possible to tackle the abuser and provide the child with the relief and therapy they so badly need after the trauma.
For instance, if a child starts talking about being sexually abused, even if its hypothetical, we should be careful when approaching them to further investigate into the reality of the situation. Asking them what is wrong, when it is noticed that they are shying away from their close friends or from a specific person, or if they keep having nightmares, usually helps the child soften up and speak about the main issue they are having to deal with.
Most physical signs of sexual abuse in children include difficulty in walking, sitting or peeing. If any of the above mentioned signs are brought to your notice, kindly be gentle in asking your child about the situation. Most children tend to be afraid of telling the truth for the reason of unknown repercussions or due to the threats given to them by their molesters. More than often, the child will be told to keep the molestation as a secret, and half of the times, the child is not even aware of the wrong that is happening to them. It may be the case, that the adult who is sexually abusing a child may have gone through the same treatment in their childhood. It is crucial to break this toxic cycle of abuse and help prevent it from being passed down to the next generation.
Since a long time, the issue of sexual abuse and sex trafficking has remained highly prevalent in India. Due to such abuse of these innocent souls’ bodies, there has been noted a spike in sexually transmitted diseases among children. In most cases, the children have seemed to personally know their sexual predators in some or the other way, and this fact has been more disturbing and enraging so as to demand for less ambiguous and more stringent punishment for the child predators who sexually abuse them.
The POCSO Act, 2012 is a gender-neutral legislation. It defines a child as any individual below 18 years and provides protection to all children from any form of sexual abuse. When any child sexual offence leads to the child being mentally ill or when it is done by someone who has been entrusted in a position of authority for the child, like the child’s parent or relative, the offence is treated as “aggravated”. The Act has laid down severe punishments for such crimes, according to the gravity of the offence. The importance of the principle of “best interest of the child” is emphasized on, in the Act, and accordingly, a friendly atmosphere for the child to go through the judicial procedure without feeling unsafe during it is created.
Every child going through such abuse needs medical attention or rehabilitation to overcome the trauma of the abuse they had to go through, and the Special Courts determine the amount of compensation that is to be paid to the sexually abused child. Every precaution is taken by the courts and the official authorities so as to not traumatize the child while gathering evidence and continuing through the investigation and the court proceedings.
The helpline number for any child in distress is 1098 – Childline is India’s first 24-hour telephonic helpline service available to every single child in need for help. There is no reason to be afraid. Help will always be given to those who need it.
Child Sexual Abuse is the most commonly occurring crime, which remains unnoticed in a lot of cases due to the inability of the child to have the basic understanding of taking a stand for themselves. When such a heinous crime is being done to a child, and he/she remains silent about it, it is the responsibility of the parent to be strictly observational on the behavioural changes of their child. Reminding the child going through such abuse, that they are loved and cared for, is crucial. Such sexual predators see no age bar for their own sexual needs. Every child must be protected and educated about the certain good and bad touches that they should be raising their voices up against. This education, if started early, is the only way to help build the confidence of a child so much as to enable them to cry out for help, when needed.
As people of this country and also members of progressive society, it becomes our duty to spread awareness, for this darkness can only be dispelled by the light of awareness of child rights. Also, people should pro-actively report such cases of child abuse as they need to understand that the child being abused today can be their tomorrow. Hence, laws and regulations will be enacted and amended but primarily we need to focus on a community based approach to put a stop to this evil of child sexual abuse for “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
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