Child sexual abuse is a misunderstood and heinous offense in India. The United Nations defines child sexual abuse as, “contacts or interactions between a child and an older or more knowledgeable child or adult (a stranger, sibling or person in position of authority, a parent or a caretaker) when the child is being used as an object of gratification for the older child’s or adult’s sexual needs. These contacts or interactions are carried out against the child using force, trickery, bribes, threats or pressure” (UNICEF, 2003).
To put it in layman’s term, a crime in which the criminal is well aware of the crime he’s committing but, the victim is neither aware nor is able to express or share her/his trauma. This makes it easier for the perpetrators to target children and difficult for caretakers and others to understand the victim’s trauma at the right time or to understand it at all.
There are many misconceptions surrounding CSA (Child Sexual Abuse), which is again an obstacle in reducing this crime. Some of them are:
- The sexual abuse victim is always a girl child: Maybe a lesser percentage, but boys are also victims of CSA. Also, perpetrators can be both males as well as females, though the female ratio is low.
- The attackers are strangers: Most of the attackers are generally family members – someone familiar to the child or known to the family.
- CSA happens only in families with poor economic conditions: We can say that the reason for CSA differs but it is prevalent irrespective of the economic background.
- Abuse happens in places other than homes: On the contrary, as the abuser is generally someone related to the family or child, it’s very easy for them to use the comfort of home to harass the child.
- Complaints of children are simply childish: However when kids complain of such painful experience, they’re usually correct and the parents or caretakers need to pay heed and take corrective actions immediately.
With the will and effort of everyone in the country to counter this crime, we understand that there need to be major changes. The changes need to start from our mindsets to the laws and the education system as well.
Here are some of the basic changes that need to be put in place:
- Changing our Mindset on Child Abuse: We need to first accept that this is a major concern for the kids. Children, who are our future, need to be provided a safe environment. A child who goes through this trauma, not only suffers for the time he is being tortured but a lifetime scar is left on him or her. The mental health is also affected badly by such incidents. This not only kills the confidence but also suppresses many talents that the kid has.
- Fight against Child Marriages: In most families with low economic status, girls are forced to marry at a very young age (mostly between 9-15 years). Child marriage itself being a crime also promotes CSA. The reason many families give is that they ‘secure’ their girls from other men in the society by marrying them off. A crime committed for avoiding chances of another crime can never be justified.
- Awareness and Sex Education: Sex education should begin first from home. Just like basic academics is taught at home, parents should also understand the need to educate their children against being groped, shown pornographic content through any media, being teased sexually and other forms of abuse. Educate the child to raise their voice against such incidents to their parents, caretakers or other elders. On being given such complaints, elders need to listen, understand and act immediately. It will create a very bad effect on the child’s mind if parents take such reports by the child casually and ask her/him to stop imagining such stuff. In schools, interactive videos, stories and a student teacher, or student counsellor interaction can help educate the children. Like other curricular subjects, sex education should also be introduced to help a child save her/himself from it. Schools should also have a separately appointed counsellor with whom the students can discuss their doubts and convey their troubles.
- Legal Amendments: The POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) passed in 2012 by the parliament of India needs to be stringently enforced. Also, the cases that are under trial by the judiciary of our country needs to be addressed soon, by fast-track courts. The old saying goes, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ There have been cases where the victim grows from a child to an adolescent or even an adult and the trials of CSA continue in the courts. This delay keeps the trauma alive in an individual’s mind and stunts their overall development, especially psychological. The recent Madras High Court suggestion by the Justice N. Kirubakaran for castrating the criminals in CSA case is a new hope. I don’t exactly support being inhuman in punishments, but as Justice N. Kirubakaran rightly said, “barbaric crimes deserve barbaric punishments”.
With all these thoughts we need to understand that addressing this issue is equally important than any other. There are many NGOs and other organisations like Child Line 1098, CRY (Child Rights and You), Tulir, to name a few, who are working day and night to fight CSA and rescue children. We all need to remember that a physically, mentally and emotionally fit child can only build a successful life and take this country ahead.
The World Day for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is observed on November 19. Let’s pledge to celebrate this day every day, by saving the children from this crime and keeping them happy and safe.