Child sexual abuse: more steps needed

Child sexual abuse: more steps needed

Children are future citizens of our society. Development of children into strong, confident and responsible adults requires safe, secure and healthy environment. But many a times, children are subjected to harassment, cruelty and sexual abuse which impede their growth. Child sexual abuse is one of the most heinous forms of crime against a child’s well-being and dignity.

Children, who account for more than a third of the country’s population, have always been the victims of some of the most brutal sexual crimes, violence and harassment. The large number of child sexual abuse cases is mainly due to the deeprooted traditional social fabric of the country. Society expects children to obey and respect elders and authority figures without questioning. Questioning the elders is generally considered indiscipline and bad culture.

Adults in India are often seen to exercise a near feudal hold over children, demanding their unquestioned and complete obedience. Shyness and silence encourages sexual predators to sexually abuse children. Children who are sexually abused suffer trauma, shame, insecurity, helplessness and low esteem. This also impedes effective prosecution of offenders.

The Centre and state governments have initiated a number of measures aimed at creating a safe environment for all children. Enactment of statutes and laws emphasise the efforts of the states in protecting children. Article 39 of the Constitution provides that the State shall in particular direct its policy towards securing that children of tender age are not abused and their childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and they are given facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, ratified by India in December 1992, requires the State Parties to undertake all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent: a) the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; b) the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices. 

The National Policy for Children 1974 and 2013 and the National Charter of Children 2003 reiterate the commitment of the government to uphold the rights and privileges of growing children. The 2013 policy envisages that the State shall protect all children from all forms of violence and abuse, harm, neglect, stigma, discrimination, deprivation, exploitation, including economic and sexual exploitation, abandonment, separation, abdication, sale or trafficking for any purpose or in any form, pornography, alcohol and substance abuse, or any other activity that takes undue advantage of them, or harms their personhood or affects their development.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse (POCSO) Act was enacted in 2012 with the primary aim of delivering justice to children who suffer sexual violence in a child-sensitive and efficient manner through effective reporting, investigating and trial procedures, and specifically through coordination of all key functionaries concerned. 

The POCSO Act has been strengthened through enactment of Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, wherein enhancement of punishment has been prescribed for different categories of sexual harassment. The Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance 2018 stipulates speedy investigation and trial of offences in cases relating to child sexual abuse. 

Although statutorily and legally, adequate safeguards have been provided to protect children from all forms of violence and sexual abuse, the implementation of laws and procedures require greater interest from stakeholder agencies. 

Since the enactment of POCSO Act 2012, 8,229 cases have been registered in Karnataka against child sexual abuse offenders. But the deterrence level is not very encouraging, as the conviction rate is only around 16%. Therefore, there is a need to take effective steps to safeguard children from sexual harassment and violence. Some of them may be: 

• Creating greater awareness among children regarding their rights and to report any form of molestation and sexual abuse. The concept of good touch and bad touch should be included in the school curriculum.

• Sensitising parents, guardians and teachers to keep a watch on the abnormal behaviour of children due to bad influences. 

• Coordination between different government departments dealing with children’s safety, NGOs and others to secure rights and entitlement of children.

• Promoting child-friendly jurisprudence and building a preventive and responsive child protection system.

• Developing emergency outreach services for speedy rescue of children who are subjected to harassment.

• Sensitising police officers and journalists to ensure child privacy as children suffer from a sense of shame and stigma after sexual abuse.

• Focusing on improving quality of investigation to secure conviction in courts in all criminal cases relating to children.

The above steps are illustrative in nature. The State and civil society should put in all resources to ensure that children grow up in the best possible safe environment and become good citizens and assets to the nation.

(The writer is Additional Director General of Police, Crime and Technical Services, Bengaluru)