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April is Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. Here is everything you need to know to deal with child sexual abuse in India – a heinous crime against innocence.
“Children should be carefree, playing in the sun: not living in a nightmare in the darkness of the soul”- Dave Pelzer
53% of children in India face sexual abuse, both boys and girls… but we still feel uncomfortable talking about it. Often we are clueless when an incident of abuse happens.
While we discuss a lot on the safety practices – the good/bad/safe/unsafe touches, we rarely discuss what if a child is abused? What next, and what do we need to do? That’s why a parent who is already devastated with the news of their child being abused by someone often feels helpless, clueless, and refrains from reporting the incident.
But this also means that the predator, the criminal, is left scot-free! But in reality, after the POCSO Act 2012, (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) and in the following years the scenario has changed. A little awareness of the same might help us all face and deal with an incident of child abuse better. Because the more cases are reported, the more the accused are tried and convicted and punished, the more it will act as a deterrent, and chances of child abuse incidents decreasing will be higher.
According to the POCSO Act, Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a broad term used to describe sexual offences against children. To put it simply, Child Sexual Abuse occurs when a person involves the child in sexual activities for his/her sexual gratification, commercial gain or both. Section- 2(1) (d) defines a “child” – as any person below the age of 18 years.
Many cases of child abuse are never reported because the child is reluctant to confide in anyone.
It is very important to always keep the channel of communication open. It is important to assure the child that s/he is not going to get further harmed, mistrusted, shamed or misunderstood or going to be blamed for the incident.
The child is already hurt, scared, and their self esteem and confidence goes down when any such incident happens to them. The family members, parents and friends together should help the child regain that confidence- self esteem..
They should help the child to develop the trust and disclose about the incident of abuse, without panic.
Remember the safety and wellbeing of the child should be the top most priority!
… we need to ensure few things.
~ The family members or adult caregivers should look into his/her eyes, should not look shocked or show disbelief. Tell the child that you believe, and keep reassuring..
~ It is important to let the child take time to trust the elder caregiver/ family member to be able to talk about what is troubling him/her.
~ Not all bruises are from playing rough- it is important to identify and examine marks that are in unusual places such as thighs, torso, neck or in and around genital areas.
~ Don’t make any false promise to your child, like for example, that you will keep it secret. Tell the child exactly what you are going to do. This will help you keep up the trust, which is crucial for the next levels. Also reassure the child that they did the right thing by sharing the incident and that nothing wrong will happen to them for that.
~ Ask short and simple questions like- what happened? Where? How? Who did that? Don’t ask leading questions. Don’t push for information. Do not make assumptions.
~ Record the narrative by the child, a child specially if very young, might forget, get confused, or stressed, later.
~ At the end of disclosure, acknowledge the courage of the child. Remember it must have not been easy for him/her to talk about abuse. Tell them they did a “good job” by sharing this with you.
Once the disclosure has happened and you are sure that the child has suffered sexual abuse, the following are the steps needed to be taken.
~ Keep the clothes the child was wearing at the time of the incident- unwashed, safely (as those might be required during the course of investigation).
~ Report the incident. Register an FIR and ask for a copy of the same. It is advisable to write the matter of the FIR at home/ in a calm environment as entire investigation will depend on your First Information Report-FIR.
~ You may/should also reach out to the National Child relief helpline- 1098 besides filing a report with the police. There are many NGOs working on this front who can be reached for support – Arpan in Mumbai, Rahi in Delhi, Bosco in Bengaluru or Tulir in Chennai to name a few. ‘Save The Child’ has centres all over the country.
~ Get the child’s medical examination done at the earliest at a government hospital by a registered doctor- this can be conducted irrespective of whether an FIR has been filed, and this must be conducted in the presence of the parents of the child. In case of the absence of parents, in the presence ofsomeone the child trusts, or the head of the hospital.
~ Determine if the child needs to be produced before a Child welfare Committee (CWC) if s/he is found in need of protection and care.
~ Ensure the Medical examination is done- if not already done.
~ Ensure medical support if required- should take the child to nearest hospital.
~ Report the matter to CWC and special court.
~ Inform the parents/family of the child about the support services available including counselling.
~ Inform the child’s family about their right to legal aid and representation.
~ Update them around availability of the public and private emergency and crisis services.
~ Update them about the availability of victim’s compensation benefits.
~ Update the family about developments in the case and procedural steps involved in the criminal prosecution.
~ Rendering of a verdict after trial.
~ Sentence imposed on an offender.
(As mentioned in the POCSO act in coherence with the guideline from WHO and UNICEF.)
During Medical Examination
During reporting : ( Role of Police and CWC)
Role of Special Court
At all point of time the parents and family together need to support the child, show trust in the child, and encourage and motivate the child so that the child doesn’t feel low on hope or self esteem during the course of investigation and trial. The child should know that “no matter what, my family is there to support me”. Parents and family need to ensure that at all point of time, and at any and every place the child’s dignity is to be maintained.
A heinous crime like child sexual abuse needs to be reported and investigated every time it happens so that every single person who even thinks of doing any harm to a child should think many times before committing any such crime! While we cannot ensure 100% that the accused will be convicted and punished without going through the process, some level of understanding and awareness around what the entire procedure is like, what one needs to do, what rights a child has, and what kind of treatment one should expect for the child, lands us in a better position to deal with child abuse.
If we know about child abuse and don’t act on it, we are not just doing injustice to the child, we are doing injustice to many children who remain the target of the criminal whom you left scot free; it’s an injustice to the entire society. So report if and when you learn about any such crime happening. Remember, the law is on your side!
Information source: User Handbook of POCSO act by ncpcr.gov.in, thebetterindia.com, citizenmatters.in
Image source: YouTube
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