Landmark Act

The government has taken a long-overdue step to protect children from sexual abuse with Parliament passing the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2012. The legislation will protect children below the age of 18 from sexual abuse. It provides for special courts to ensure speedy trial and for stringent punishment, including life imprisonment, for offenders. It puts in place questioning and trial procedures that are child-friendly. Thus, the statement of child victims will be recorded in an environment chosen by the child, and girls will be questioned and medically examined by woman only.

The legislation stipulates that children should not be subjected to aggressive questioning. Importantly, the legislation is gender-neutral.  There is a misperception among the public that it is only women and girls who suffer sexual violence. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences legislation corrects this misconception. It recognises that even boys can be sexually abused and it doesn’t assume that the perpetrator is a male. It recognises that penetration is not essential to constitute sexual abuse and mentions visually subjecting a child to pornography among a list of actions that is liable for prosecution under the law.

For too long has India had an ostrich-like mentality to the problem of child sexual abuse. We have refused to acknowledge that the problem is rampant in our society, preferring to believe that this is more likely to happen in the ‘decadent west’. Moreover, we have refused to admit that often perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members. This denial has resulted in millions of helpless children being abused sexually for years and having no recourse. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences legislation changes that. This is landmark legislation.

But merely enacting legislation will not make our children safe. The legislations must be implemented. Besides, it is important that children are educated about sexual abuse and empowered with information in a way that helps them differentiate between a ‘safe touch’ and an ‘unsafe touch.’ They must be able to recognise sexual abuse. This will require schools and families to participate more robustly in sex education programmes. A large section of our population has been averse to introducing such education in schools. This section needs to wake up to the fact that children will remain vulnerable to sexual predators if they are kept ignorant about these issues.

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