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We need a national policy for child rights PDF Print E-mail
(1 Vote)
Written by Asha Bajpai   

With the recent reported cases of child sexual abuse and incest, we have focused on what is an unfortunate reality. Child sexual abuse (CSA) and incest are widely prevalent in India, cutting across gender, class, caste, cultural, religious, occupational and economic backgrounds. Both boys and girls are vulnerable. The offender is usually someone the child knows, either in the family or close to the family, often someone in a position of trust and responsibility to the child. Close-knit families including the joint family system can hide an alarming amount of sexual abuse of children which is generally hushed up so the 'happy Indian family' myth continues.

The abuse includes fondling, exhibitionism, masturbation, sexual intercourse or showing of explicitly sexual material. Children who do report CSA must be believed because if they are not, it makes them feel more ashamed and afraid to tell anyone else. If sexual abuse is detected, the child must be helped and protected and access to the alleged offender must be immediately stopped. This is a serious crime. Often reporting a case of CSA causes more pain to the family and the victim because of our insensitive and prejudiced reporting systems, legal process and law enforcement. Police stations with child protection officers need intense training.

India is a 'haven' for child sexual abusers and paedophiles. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) does not recognise child sexual abuse or incest. Instead, the laws for women are extended to include children. Only rape and sodomy can lead to criminal conviction. Anything less than rape amounts to "outraging the modesty", a relatively mild offence. The word rape is too specific and it does not include the various kinds of child sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of boys. For lack of any specific provision for boy-child sexual abuse, at present the provision on unnatural sexual offences in the IPC is used.

The absence of a proper medical report in the case of a sexual assault goes against the assaulted child. The insensitive interviewing of kids causes further trauma. A child has to give his/her evidence several times over, reliving the trauma. Repeat offences against the one child are not yet considered by the law.

In India exceptions of hearsay evidence are accepted in cases of dying declaration and murder victims. Why not also make such an exception in the case of a child victim's testimony? There is a need to amend both substantive and procedural laws to ensure successful prosecution. The physical and psychological well-being of victims and witnesses must outweigh legal technicalities. The language of the child has to be understood by the legal system.

Children need legal protection right from the time of the incident, while filing an FIR and during trial and post trial. Professionals, agencies, ministries must also work togther. There must be a list of responsible persons like teachers and doctors with a legal obligation to report. Our reporting procedures must be safe and sensitive. Several support services like victim witness protection are crucial. The state must also protect minor victims from sexual abuse by foreigners who run institutions in the name of charity and escape even minimal inspections as they do not use state funds. Schools must include special modules on CSA — to give the child confidence to discuss such issues with teachers and parents. Nitharis will happen and fathers will rape daughters for 'business profits' until child rights in their entirety become the focus of national policy.

We claim India will be a world power by 2020. Can we become a world power with our children being sexually abused and exploited? Children are not vote banks but this being election time, we could use our votes to elect those who sincerely care for children and the future of our country.


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