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Child Abuse: STATE BE MADE ACCOUNTABLE, By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee, 17 August 2018 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 17 August 2018

Child Abuse


By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee


Recent horrific incidents of child abuse in shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have elicited sharp response from various quarters, including the Supreme Court, on the culpability of State governments and local administration. Arresting individual culprits alone would not help end the scourge, which runs deep. In the Muzaffarpur shelter home even a child welfare committee member and the district child protection officer were accused of raping minor girls. The State must be answerable


And the Supreme Court has done precisely this. On Tuesday last, it was stumped when the Centre informed it that 1,575 sexually abused children are living in shelter homes run by NGOs across the country! This was not a rough estimate but based on a report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) following an all-India survey conducted on shelter homes. Of the cases reported, 1,289 girls and 286 boys were sexually abused and 189 children were “victims of pornography”!


Statistics reveal that 30 to 50 per cent of Indians are sexually abused in the country, which has around five lakh child prostitutes. The World Health Organization (WHO) had estimated that 150 million girls and 73 million boys had been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence. Moreover, a large number of children, running into thousands or maybe even a lakh, both reported and unreported, are missing every year and around 25 per cent are not traced. These children are taken, mostly from villages and from urban slums.


Abuse and neglect are defined as “injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child”. This abuse, according to the WHO, can be of several kinds--physical, mental, emotional, psychological or in the form of neglect or exploitation. It brings about circumstances causing harm to a child’s health, welfare, and safety. There can be no denying that child abuse, in its various forms can be found everywhere in India -- in cities and rural homes, in homes of both the rich and the poor, and in the streets and schools.


In fact, trafficking in children, underage girls and young women is possibly the third largest organised crime next only to illegal trade in drugs and arms. Pakistan, Malaysia, Nepal and Indonesia are among others closely associated with such crimes. In India, like in most others countries in South Asia, poverty has been the main reason for human trafficking.


Legal measures to combat child trafficking are not stringent enough and State governments too are not serious about enforcement measures. Take for example rape cases--these are rampant in the country in spite of stringent laws, leading to nagging suspicion of a nexus between investigating agencies, the police and State administration. Only recently, an international organisation described India as the most dangerous country for women. And while the Government has denied and rubbished the report, it is confronted with the child abuse scandal.   


How tough are the country’s laws to safeguard women and children? The main legal provisions are the Indian Penal Code 1860 with several stipulations to deal with the use of criminal force against women and female children – Sections 354, 366, 366 A, 366 B (selling minors for prostitution), 373 (buying minors for the purpose of prostitution) and 375. Unless enforcement is strengthened, legal provisions have little value, thereby raising a demand among civil society to ensure a lady officer and at least one official in each police station to deal with such crimes.


Additionally, the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 has had very little impact. The economic situation, lure for money and a growing materialistic culture are also reasons for increase in child abuse, especially among girls. Moreover, with a liberal culture spreading in cities, free sex for money is on the rise. Besides, the National Crime Records Bureau has spoken about the relationship of victims and accused in rape cases.


A thin silver lining, if we may call it, is that the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act of 2012 (POCSO) and Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, has been strengthened recently to contain child rights’ violation. As a result, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of child abuse cases filed, translating into an increase in number of convictions. But this is still not enough. Bihar and UP shelter homes have revealed that sexual abuse of the inmates was rampant, making a mockery of the laws.


Sadly, shelter homes instead of providing succour to destitute children have turned into centres of sex trade. Perhaps, these need to be linked to schools which must be run by trained staff and should have qualified counsellors and educators. This could be considered by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which has done well by calling for social audit of all 9000-odd shelter homes in the country.


However, what comes as a surprise is that it is novel order. Social audit, as per exiting recommendations of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), has been mandatory for organisations and institutions that are government-aided and have a public interface! Therefore, the Ministry must ensure that its instructions simply don’t remain on paper and at the same time have the audit conducted by an independent agency such as an academic body or a consultancy or research organisation so that there is no political pressure.


This apart, the Government must set up separate tribunals/fast courts for cases of sexual abuse and impose severe penalties. It may also consider steps such as making moral and sex education compulsory in schools and colleges; raise awareness of sexual abuse through  mass media; perpetrators of such crimes be given psychological treatment and school teachers be trained for detecting symptoms of sexual abuse among children. Extra effort would need to be made to detect child abuse at home or by family members, as experts say this is often a hidden phenomenon. At the same time, focus on child labour, prostitution, any form of abuse in State-run institutions such as schools, or aided homes needs to be sharper and all-encompassing.          


It also goes without saying that societal abuses which are a result of poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, poor health, neglect need to be addressed. Since economic and social conditions are inextricably linked together, child maltreatment prevention programmes too must be widely publicised. The presence of social networks and a stronger family support system could facilitate bring about awareness in prevention of child abuse, be it any form.


However, other than reforming the society, what is critical is a ‘child protection policy’, as sought by the Supreme Court. How soon will the Centre be able to frame it and will its provisions halt the inhuman and appalling incidents in shelter homes, is the big question.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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