Howdy Children? Safe?


Jaipur, India – A young girl studying in seventh standard grabbed a volunteer after a session on safe and unsafe touch and was curious to know what does ‘Rape’ mean? Though there was no mention of ‘Rape’ anywhere during the dialogue with children as part of a massive citizen campaign ‘Sparsh’ (Touch), the innocent girl could relate it to the incidences which have been echoing quite often.

Indian media is replete with stories of gang rapes, brutal murders of minor girls after being raped, dumping of abused children, infants being sexually assaulted, and parents killed or harassed for taking recourse to the law or registering police case against the accused. While I am writing this, in front of me howls front page headlines juxtaposed ‘Father of 8 year Rape survivor Murdered after filing a case against accused’ and ’15 year Girl Raped, Jumped in a Well’. And, there is hardly any day when we don’t read such gruesome stories in some part of the country.

Not all cases invite candlelight marches or angry protests from civil society however. For this the victims need to be qualified for catching their eyeballs or fact finding exercise. Which means only when the victim belongs to a certain caste or religion, or the incident has happened in a state ruled by a certain political party, these organizations designed to hurl their slogans and venom at select few, will make a show, not otherwise. Their selective and professional activism has done harm beyond repair to the very concept of civic movement for social reforms.

India is on top of the list of nations in Child Sexual Abuse Imagery (CSAI) with more than 3.8 million reports originating from India. Internet pornography and abusive videos are considered a major cause of growing intensity of crimes and children are easy targets for sexual predators. India with a child population of approximately 37 percent and about 50 percent of children facing some kind of sexual abuse, we may disbelieve the extent of insensitivity permeating the entire system of justice and getting a close look will only reveal the truth.

Recently, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi suo motu picked the matter of sexual offenses against children on a PIL finding it urgent after it came to his knowledge that between January to July this year (2019) there were 24 thousand cases reported of this nature where first information report was filed by the police but trial was initiated in 6449 cases and only 911 cases could have final disposal. His appeal for ‘zero tolerance’ for such crimes needs serious strategy and speedy actions.

National – International agencies entrusted with the tasks of child safety facilitate dialogue between various stakeholders and present perspectives on the issue. Their job ends there as they all operate in a rigid frame amid bureaucratic complexities. And, despite all these efforts, safe spaces for children are shrinking fast. One of the speakers at one such conference on ‘Violence against Children’ portrayed how child friendly police stations have painted walls with colors and cartoons and created toy zones to catch visual attention. But this has not changed the behavior of police toward children. He suggested that victimized children and their families do not come to the police station to play, but to seek timely punishment for the criminal or seek protection cover from them.

Unfortunately that part is missing in Police system which is trained to deal with crime with all harshness and toughness. Sudden role reversal in case of crime or sexual offenses against children is not as easy as it appears. At one end is hard core criminal procedure and at another are innocent survivor or victim and the whole family to be counseled well, rehabilitated and dealt with extreme care and sensitivity throughout the trial. Experts are suggesting a separate wing of Police trained to deal with crime against children with an altogether different skill set and proper budget allocation.

The UN Commission on Child Care (UNCRC) was assented by Indian in 1992, India is also a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. India adopted a National Policy for Children in 1974 and the result after 44 years is that children and women are as vulnerable not only outside but within the boundaries of homes and in all institutional setups, schools or child care facilities.

The caste system has also not spared children as is evident from a recent horrific incident in Madhya Pradesh where two children from a certain caste counted as lower in social strata were beaten up to death. Indian Parliament has certainly done good job by giving more teeth to the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act 2012 this year to punish the assaulter rigorously to the extent of death penalty. Society is reactive, media is sensitive and fast track POCSO courts are efficient in passing judgement without losing a day. Still, every 155 minutes, one child under the age of 16 years is abused sexually. Society and law enforcement system needs to take the entire blame.

While National Crime Record Bureau data indicate crime against children is on the rise, the other surveys and observations indicate that 80 percent of the children who face abuse identify the person easily and in approximately 50 percent of the cases, the abuser is someone in close circle of the children being targeted. National Commission on Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is running a 24 hour helpline 1098 offering best of child friendly counseling, hand holding and knowledge based social and legal support to the abused child, but there is hardly any effort on the part of the state agencies to popularize it and make children use it judiciously.

We all have to ask our children if they feel safe, watch their response, remove all scars of abuse if we find any, reassure them about their safety and activate our systems to act fast to keep their innocence intact. Remember, children who have been abused stop loving themselves for their whole life if not taken care of.

Dr. Shipra Mathur
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