Not a minor issue

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Not a minor issue

Sunday, 11 August 2019 | MUSBA HASHMI

Not a minor issue

Almost 24,000 cases of child abuse were reported in six months as of June, this year. MUSBA HASHMI brings you a report on how the recent amendments in POCSO Act can help tackle the issue

On July 26, 2019 a three-year-old girl was abducted by two men from Tatanagar railway station in Jharkhand where she was sleeping with her parents. In a CCTV footage of the station, one man was seen carrying the sleeping child in his arms and walking out of the station. While, the other man was seen walking behind him. The girl was then raped, beheaded and her body was dumped in a plastic bag. The head of the girl is yet to be found.

Another case in point is a 45-year-old woman from Thiruvanathapuram was found guilty in sexually abusing a 17-year-old boy for two years straight, earlier this June. The woman was identified as a relative of the teenager.

These cases show how indifferent and unconcerned we are as a society and country when it comes to child abuse and rapes. There have been uncountable cases when a child has been sexually or physically abused in school, coaching classes and even at homes. Be it the eight-year-old Asifa Bano from Kathua or the seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur from Gurugram, all these innocents paid a cost of our carelessness by losing their lives. Is it this easy to get away with rape and murder? Is there no fear among the culprits while commiting such horrendous crimes? Do their hands not shiver while taking away the lives of innocents?  Who is to be blamed — the Government for not taking strict actions, the society for  these anti-social elements foster here, the parents for not educating their children about sexual abuse and the difference between the right touch and the wrong touch or the school for not raising awareness among the children and their parents  with respect to child abuse?

Keeping in mind the current scenario, the Government approved the proposed amendments in The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO)Act 2012 which includes death penalty for aggravated sexual assault on children.

The Government has said that the modification in the law will address the need for stringent measures against rising trend of child sex abuse in the country and combat the menace of relatively new kind of crimes.

According to a finding, 24,000 cases of child abuse were reported in six months as of June this year. These statistics are in itself worrisome. It shows how there is an immediate need to come up with some instant solutions that can reduce these numbers if not nullify it.

Rakesh Sengar, Executive Director, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation says that the Government’s step to make amendments in the POCSO Act is highly appreciable but there is much more that the Government can do.

“The role of enforcement agencies has to be monitored closely. Proper implementation of rules and  regulations is the need of the hour. The newly passed Bill on POCSO is a great effort but it is not the end. There is much more that the Government should do,” he tells you. The foundation has come up with a complaint cell where the survivors can report a crime which will then be transferred to the police for necessary action.

There are a lot of warning signs to look out for to identify a victim of child abuse. “To help people understand these signs we made a film — FullStop that dealt with the trauma of a young boy whose was abused by his  football coach. The film showed that within three days of getting enrolled into the classes, the boy was eager to quit. This happens in real life too. When the child shows disinterest in going to tuition or training classes or even school, the parents without even bothering to know the reason behind it, scold the child and force him to go there. They are more worried about the extravagant fees that they have paid. But this is a sign that something is wrong. If the parents start taking notes of even the slightest change in their child’s behaviour they should try to talk to them and understand the reason behind the child’s disinterest in things that earlier interested him the most. Looking out for these danger signs can solve most of the problems and help report child abuse before it is too late,” Sengar says.

Often it is seen that even if the child reports an inappropriate behaviour from any family member and or a teacher to his mother, the first thing that the mother tells the child is to keep quiet. This will not help. Parents have to learn to raise their voice and speak about what is wrong.

Sengar recalls: “There was a case when a grandmother brought her 12-year-old granddaughter to report the case of sexual abuse by her son. The girl was being sexually abused by her father for a long time and when the girl reported the incident to the mother, she did not take any action just to save her relationship. But, the girl was brave enough to tell it to her grandmother, who then brought the girl to us to register a case. We filed a case against him and now the culprit is behind bars. The gist is that if the victim is brave enough to speak then even if one family member tries to hide things up, he will go to another or straight away to the police and if not this then they can the child helpline on 1098 and report the incident.”

Sadly, the miseries of survivors doesn’t stop with the crime. There is a lot of mental trauma that they go through on a daily basis.

“Sometimes the child stops talking or goes through sever anger issues. The most common mistakes that the parents commit during this phase is to stop engaging with the child. They fear that the child will become more aggressive. The easy way out here is engage the child in small talks first. Talk to them about their studies, discuss their strong points, tell them about their strengths, discuss all the positive aspects of their lives. Discussing about the incident is a big ‘no-no’. It will affect the child’s mood and bring back all the ugly memories. Also, the parent has to make the child believe that they are not the ones to be blamed, they did nothing wrong. There is nothing to be ashamed of. This will help boost the child’s confidence,” he says and adds that to help such children overcome the trauma the society has to play it’s part.

“Society has a major role to play in helping the victims overcome the trauma. A very persistent thing in the society is that  if anyone will go to visit the survivor and asks help from the neighbours in finding the place, they address the child as: ‘Achcha woh bachchi jis kay saath rape hua tha’. We  have to stop giving these tags. Such tags should be given to the culprit. This will help the children understand ‘woh galat nahin hain, unkey saath jo hua woh galat hai aur jisney kiya woh galat hai’,” Sengar tells you.

There are certain challenges that the survivors have to go through. First, they are often treated differently or being looked down upon. Second, delayed justice is a cause of concern.

“Back in 2013, we came across a case of a 13-year-old girl from South Delhi who was sexually abused by a boy who lived near by. The girl was so traumatised after the incident that she suffered from epilepsy there after. The girl was being treated in one of the renowned hospitals. The girl resumed her school after sometime but it was a different kind of behaviour that she had to go through. Though, it changed after the teachers and children got to know about what exactly happened with her. Her case is still in the court. Delayed justice is also a matter that has to be looked after by the Government. There have been many cases of child abuse that are still in the court and no justice has been done since years,” Sengar tells you and gives you solution to prevent child abuse.

“Complaint boxes should be put up in playgrounds and schools. This will help the survivors, who are hesitant to open up and report the crime to anyone. They can simply write down what happened and put the letter in the box. Then, the police can take necessary actions. This will help a lot of survivors to come forward and report crimes. It will give them confidence that they are not alone and their voice will not go unheard,” he says.

Pooja Sareen, an advocate and a POCSO expert says that lack of awareness among the parents and the children is the major  reason behind the increased number of crimes.

“There are different types of crimes that the parents should know about. Knowledge is power. Many cases go unnoticed because either the child or the parent is living in oblivion, unaware of what happened was wrong. First, paedophilia. It is a psychiatric disease wherein an adolescent experiences a primary or special sexual appeal to prepubescent kids. Someone who’s identified with paedophilia ought to be at the least 16 years old and at least five years older than the prepubescent child. Such incidents are not reported, though they happen often, specially in boarding schools, close vicinity of houses or by grown up cousins. Second, sodomy. It is a crime not reported most of the times. It refers to male child expoitation — Male to male abuse and exploitation. In such cases, most of the survivors don’t speak up at all.  Moreover, only one small section is dedicated to this offence  in our constitution — Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Third, infant sexual abuse. It is rising at an alarming rate in India. Ironical is that the criminal regulations in India are insufficient in a lot of respect to cope with such sensitive and critical problems,” she tells you and adds that any kind of exploitation to children is not only limited to physical or sexual abuse, but it affects them mentally and emotionally as well.

Sareen is all praise for the enactment of the POCSO Amendment Bill, 2019 and says that it is a prerogative of the Parliament.

“The Government’s decision to pass the Bill is an excellent step towards fighting the crimes related to child abuse. Apart from giving death penalty to the culprits,  offences have been made gender neutral, which is the need of the hour. The amendments made also provide for fines and imprisonment to curb child pornography too. This is indeed a bold step by the Government,” she says.

The question that arises is whether giving death penalty to the culprits, will in any way open doors to increase in crime by juveniles? Sareen  opines that this is not the case. “It will not in any way encourage juveniles to commit such crimes rather it will put an end to it. The stringent measures that have been implemented are enough to discourage the culprits from commiting such henious crimes,” she tells you.

Handling such cases is no child play. “Children usually take time to open up and talk about the incident. There are always chances that the defence may mislead them with the sexual connotations as they are not well-versed with the sexual terminologies and are not able to comprehend instances,” she says.

It is heartbreakening to see that we live in a society where the survivor is blamed for what happened and the culprit roams freely, feeling proud of his power and having no regrets of what he has done. However, after the recent Bill on POCSO, we can expect that these cases will be heard in court, the voice of the survivors will not be supressed and the judgement will be in favour of the innocents. But, how long will this take to happen, only time will tell.

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