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Child abuse- what is it? How is it dealt with in India?  

What is Child Abuse?

According to the World Health Organization, child abuse refers to an injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment, or child maltreatment. The aforementioned abuse may be physical, emotional, mental, or psychological and result in the child’s exploitation and neglect.

Though the physical impacts of abuse may be instantly visible, young minds’ psychological trauma often has a long-term consequence. It not only harms the child but the family as well and, by extension, the society at large. Child abuse in India can be found across the spectrum, blurring the lines of rural vs. urban divide, the rich vs. the poor gap, and in schools as well, both private and government.

This article deals with Child abuse- what is it? Indian scenario? How is it dealt with in India? What laws to protect it? Psychological issues in these children? How to help these kids to overcome problems? Are any NGOs functional in this? Where to ask for help?

Indian Scenario:

India has roughly 400 million children (defined by the United Nations Convention on Rights of Child as a person below 18 years of age), constituting roughly 25% of the entire population. A vast majority of children cannot exercise their right to education, right to dignity, and freedom from exploitation and oppression.

The 5 broad categories of child abuse include Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Neglect, Exploitation, and Emotional abuse.

Besides the physical scars of corporal punishments, drug abuse, and violence, the psychological impact of the abuses has been shown to impair the child’s normal growth and development, affecting the children’s emotional stability and mental status. Such children are more likely to engage in anti-social activities with a feeling of vengeance and injustice and thus, have a higher rate of juvenile delinquency (A juvenile according to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is a child below 18 years of age. Delinquency refers to a juvenile who is found doing something criminal or illegal according to the law.)

The requirement for a Multifold Approach

A multi-stakeholder approach is required to tackle the menace of child abuse. Schools, governments, and non-governmental organizations all have a critical role in ensuring children’s safety and security.

Several governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have initiated prevention programs to prevent child abuse, embark upon various abuses, and ensure their safety and security. The Government of India is becoming more and more sensitive and conscious about children’s statutory and constitutional rights.

Two statistical pieces provide insight into the magnitude of child abuse in India. According to the  Ministry of Women & Child Development (2007) survey, the prevalence of all forms of child abuse is extremely high (physical abuse (66%), sexual abuse (50%), and emotional abuse (50%). A study by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), con-ducted amongst 6,632 children respondents in 7 states, revealed 99% of children face corporal punishment in schools.

Thus, one of the major hurdles in identifying and recognizing child abuse is the inability and the hesitancy of children to respond from children. It can be attributed to two reasons. Firstly, many children cannot comprehend the dimensions of abuse, e.g., between good touch and bad touch. Secondly, they fear reprisal from their parents or guardians and thus do not report it to the concerned authorities.

Child Abuse: Physical, Sexual and Mental Impact

The three domains of visible impact in an abused child include:

Physical: Unexplained bruises, burns, fractures, contusions, and at times, bite marks. The child is generally secluded and is apprehensive of contact with other humans. He may also show a changed behavior every time he meets the abuser or may cry while going home.

Sexual: The WHO defines Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. It includes but is not limited to fondling, improper sexual touch, forcing a child into prostitution, exhibitionism, and intercourse. The child may have visible marks of perineal injury and may present with bleeding.

Mental: The mental health issues arising from child abuse include psychotic disorders, neurotic disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders. The age at first abuse, the extent, and severity of abuse, affect the magnitude of clinical disorders that affect later life.

The Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 defines child sexual abuse as the interaction between a child and an adult. The child is being used for the sexual stimulation of the perpetrator or another person. Sexual abuse is not often identified through physical indicators alone. A child can confide in a trusted person that she /he has been sexually assaulted. 

There are some physical signs of sexual abuse like difficulty walking or sitting, pain or itching, bruises or bleeding, venereal disease, and pregnancy in early adolescence. The sexually abused child may appear withdrawn or retarded, have poor peer relationships, be unwilling to participate in activities, and indulge in delinquent behavior.

Policy and Legislation:

The present National Policy on Children 2012 has replaced the earlier version of 1974. It emphasizes children’s role as a paramount asset and a demographic dividend while placing further importance on their rights.

However, there remains a huge gap between planning and program implementation, primarily due to the government’s piecemeal approach concerning child rights. 

While there is a nodal agency, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, to look after the formulation of rules and regulations, another Labour Ministry checks against child labor and exploitation. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare looks into children and young adolescents’ health under the Reproductive, Maternal, Neonatal, Child, and Adolescent (RMNCH+A) program. Additionally, the Mid-Day Meal Programme is administered by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development.

Thus there are multiple centers, and the holistic development of the child is not taken into consideration. Thus, there is a need for laying down standard and uniform protocols at the grass-root levels while defining the role and responsibility of designated entities. The services provided should be comprehensive and must include preventive, diagnostic, therapeutic, and rehabilitation services for children.

Juvenile Justice Act,2000:

It deals with the crimes committed by a juvenile under 18 years of age.

A juvenile in conflict with the law is the one who is alleged to have committed an offense. The Juvenile Justice Board hears such cases. It consists of a Judicial Magistrate 1st class and involves two social workers, one of whom must be a female.

It specifically deals with the care and protection of children who are in conflict with the law and provide humane interventions while at the same time ensuring that they meet the developmental requirements of the juvenile. Recourse is sought, which would better help the juvenile integrate into society upon his release and not indulge in illegal acts.

 

Laws On Preventing and Dealing with Child Abuse:

Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act of 2012 

(POCSO) deals with sexual crimes committed against children, including rape, assault, pornography, etc. Its main aim is to protect children from sexual abuse.

It does not define rape but includes penetrative sexual assault, thus encompassing protection against various crimes. It provides for both punishment and fine to the offender, and a more severe degree of punishment for persons in a position of authority, e.g., a police officer, public servant, etc. 

 The definition for the various offenses enlisted are comprehensive and have a wide ambit of possible scenarios. These provisions have been made, keeping in view the greater vulnerability and innocence of children. It also includes cybercrimes like sexting and bullying of children by cyber predators and punitive action against proven intent + abetment to commit a crime (irrespective of the act being committed or not).

It encompasses child-friendly measures for protecting the child’s identity and submission and recording of evidence. National and State Commissions for Protection of Children have been designated to oversee the implementation of the Act.

However, there are many pitfalls concerning implementation and enforcement: Lack of district courts and special judges, nearly 90% pendency, and a dismal conviction rate. Also, state governments’ specialized training to the judges lacks justice in a child-friendly atmosphere.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act has also been strengthened to protect against child-trafficking.

Preventing children abuse and where to ask for help:

Parental Role: Promoting discussion about healthy growing, good-vs- bad touch. Frank communication regarding issues of sexuality and gender and the physiology of growing up.

Schools: Providing sex education in an age-appropriate manner and fostering healthy discussions regarding bodily and emotional changes while growing up.

NGOs: Facilitate the communication concerning Sexual and Reproductive Health amongst the parents, children, and teachers.

Reporting: To the police authorities by the first informant. Anonymous online reporting to the website of the Ministry of Women and Child Development to take action accordingly.

Outreach and Support Services:

Often, the perpetrator of child abuse happens to be a close family member or an acquaintance. Thus, a victim of abuse requires various services: professional psychological help, medical aid, and legal support with police intervention. 

Childline, India’s first 24-hours emergency service, helps in the rehabilitation of the rescued children. Their number is 1098. It works with various NGOs and in sync with the Ministry of Women & Child Development.

The Case of Missing Children:

Running away from abusive families or searching for a job, or due to trafficking, children may go missing. Tracking them and implementing the existing mechanisms to prevent their abuse and helping in their rehabilitation must be done. Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, is the founder of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. It is a noteworthy example of an NGO that works in preventing child trafficking.

Conclusion:

Thus, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed involving all the stakeholders (government, justice delivery mechanisms, and medical fraternity) to implement the law better and provide teeth to the provision mentioned in it in compassionate, empathetic manner well-being of the child at its core.

 

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