Recently in a two-day National Program on the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said that sexual abuse of children still remains a hidden problem due to cultural silence and the State must encourage and facilitate the family to report such abuse without any discomfort or challenge especially when a family member is responsible for it. The CJI said that in some unfortunate cases the criminal justice system compounded the victim’s trauma and hence becomes very important that the executive must join hands with the judiciary to prevent such incidents from happening.
Child Sexual Abuse is seen to have long-lasting implications and hence it becomes imperative for the state and others to create more awareness regarding its prevention and available remedies. It’s very important to teach children the difference between safe touch and unsafe touch. Earlier these terms were expressed as good touch and bad touch, but later some child activists urged the parents not to use these terms, and instead use safe touch and unsafe touch due to moral implications which were resulting to less reporting of such incidents.
Key words: POSCO Act, Child, Abuse, Awareness, Trauma, Prevention.
“Imagine a childhood disease that affects one in five girls and one in seven boys before they reach the age of eighteen; a disease that can cause erratic behavior and even severe conduct disorders among those exposed; a disease that can have profound implications for an individual’s future health by increasing the risk of substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and suicidal behavior, a disease that replicates itself by causing some of its victims to expose future generations to its debilitating effects. Imagine what we, as a society would do if such a disease existed. We would spare no expense. we would invest heavily in basic and applied research. We would devise systems to identify those affected and provide services to treat them. We would develop and broadly implement prevention campaigns to protect our children. Wouldn’t we? Such a disease does exist – it is called child sexual abuse.”
-James A Mercy, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta
World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Child Sexual Abuse as “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend and is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violate the laws or social taboos of society.”
It is a prevailing problem that is seen in all generations, socioeconomic strata, and societies. Prior 1800s, child sexual abuse was not acknowledged, in fact, it was believed that something like this can simply not exist. The first important work on this is assumed to be brought to light by Frenchman, Ampoise Tardeu in 1862, who was a forensic medical expert and he documented around 515 cases of sexual offenses, 420 of which were committed on children under the age of 15 years.
What is Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is defined as the misuse of power and authority, combined with force or coercion, which leads to the exploitation of children in situations where adults or children sufficiently older than the victim to have greater strength and power, seek sexual gratification through those who are developmentally immature, and where, as a result, consent from the victim is a non-concept. Such gratification can involve explicit sexual acts or may involve invasive and inappropriate actions not directly involving contact.
CSA is a silent health emergency that goes unnoticed and is poorly underreported and managed due to the cultural taboo attached to it, most importantly when it is committed by someone within the family who is known to the child and is trusted.
Child Sexual Abuse in India
The first study on CSA was conducted in India in 1998 by Recovery and Healing from Incest, an Indian non-government organization (NGO). The study showed that the majority (76%) of the participants were abused during their childhood or adolescence. Considering this, India signed up with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child with the promise to protect its children from any form of exploitation and sexual abuse.
In 2007, The Ministry of Women and Child Development released the results of a nationwide survey on Child Abuse, which stated out of 12,500 children that participated, more than half, 53% had been subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse. This meant that one in every two children was a victim of sexual abuse. Another highlighting factor of the study was that of those who said that were sexually abused, 57% were boys.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2014 data, crimes committed against children were observed as 20.1 per one lakh population of children (up to 18 years of age). A total of 10,854 cases of child rape were reported in the country during 2015 as compared to 13,766 in 2014 accounting for a decrease of 26.8 percent during the year 2015. However, the number of cases of child sexual abuse under the POCSO Act has increased. The most vulnerable age is between 3-7 years and then between 11-15 years. Unfortunately, only serious cases are reported to the police and more than half of the accused arrested are granted bail.
The latest report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that 1,49,404 cases of crime against children were registered in 2021 of which 53,874 — 36.05 per cent — were under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
There were 47,221 POCSO cases out of 1,28,531 cases of crime against children in 2020 i.e. 36.73% and 47,335 of 1,48,185 such cases in 2019 i.e. 31.94 %. (NCRB Crime in India 2021 report).
Some of the major factors that facilitate Child Sexual Abuse are due to the following reasons:
· Relationship with the accused.
· Low education-level.
· The nuclear family of big size.
· The unsound and abusive relationship between parents.
· Absence of open communication with parents.
· Absence of parent's trust or support.
· The virtual absence of a mother.
· Unattended children.
· Semi-urban areas and slums.
The adverse effects of CSA have been understood as:
· Psychological such as Post-Traumatic Disorder, Depression, Anxiety and Panic disorder, Guilt, Anger, Attempt suicide, Affecting cognitive and emotional development, etc.
· Physical such as Internal and External wounds, Early pregnancy, Sexually transmitted diseases, Gastrointestinal Problems, etc.
· Behavioral such as Violation of laws and social conduct, Lower academic performance, Exhibition of violent behavior, etc.
· Interpersonal such as Reduced social competence, Communication Problems, Insecure Relations, and Lack of confidence and Trust.
Child Sexual Abuse is an important Public Health and Human Rights problem that should not be ignored any further. POCSO Act criminalizes all sexual acts among those under 18 years, regardless of whether consent is present factually among minors because the presumption of the law is that there is no consent among those below 18. The CJI on 10th December urged the legislature to take into the considering concern around the age of consent under the POSCO Act. Stereotypes like that only a girl child are likely to be sexually abused and that the perpetrator is usually a stranger must be broken.
"Above all, there is an urgent need to ensure that the so-called honor of the family is not prioritized above the best interest of the child,” quoted Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud.
1. WHO, Report of the consultation on child abuse prevention, Geneva, World Health Organization, 1999, p. 15
2. Ambroise Tardieu: the man and his work on child maltreatment a century before Kempe- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
3. Understanding Medical Findings in Child Sexual Abuse: An Update For 2018.
4. Child Sexual Abuse : It’s scope and our failure by Rebecca M. Bolen.
5. Anderson, K. M., & Hiersteiner, C. (2008). Recovering from childhood sexual abuse: is a “Storybook ending” possible? American Journal of Family Therapy, 36(5), 413–424.
6. Study on Child Abuse : India 2007 by Ministry of Women and Child Development.
7. Crime in India 2015 statistics by National crime records bureau , Ministry of Home affairs.
8. User handbook on Protection from children from sexual offences by National Commission for protection of child rights.
9. Baradha, G. (2006). Contemporary family problems. In A. Chowdhury, D. K. Carson, & C. K. Carson (Eds.), Family life education in India: Perspectives, challenges, and applications. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.
10. Crenshaw, D. A., & Hardy, K. V. (2007). The crucial role of empathy in breaking the silence of traumatized children in play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy.
11. NCRB- Crime in India, 2021- https://ncrb.gov.in/