Friday, Dec 15, 2017 | Last Update : 09:22 PM IST

Failing our children

The author is an advocate practising at the Madras High Court; she holds a degree in law from London and a Legal Magister in Legal Practice from the City University, UK.
Published : Sep 18, 2017, 2:02 am IST
Updated : Sep 18, 2017, 2:07 am IST

Sexual violence amongst children is notoriously difficult to measure.

Child sexual abuse is an under-reported offence in India and has reached epidemic proportions.
 Child sexual abuse is an under-reported offence in India and has reached epidemic proportions.

The epidemic proportions child sexual abuse have reached in the country is a comment on where our society is heading. The sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach of every parent is about whether her child is safe from predators. Unless we change as a society we will keep on.

Child sexual abuse is an under-reported offence in India and has reached epidemic proportions, it is a universal problem with grave life-long upshots. Sexual violence amongst children is notoriously difficult to measure; there is no single source of data that provides a complete picture of this crime, but child sexual abuse is a now a widespread problem across the globe.

A survey by the United Nations International Children Educating Fund on demographic and health conducted in Indian between 2005- 2013, reported that 10% of Indian girls might have experienced sexual violence and when they are 10-14 years of age and 30% during 15-19 years of age.  Overall, 42% of Indian girls have gone through the trauma of sexual violence before their teenage and it is reported that more school going children have been sexually abused in the school premises itself.

Study conducted by the Government of India reviled that over 17,220 children and adolescents are victims of sexual abuse. It further exposed that every second child in the country is sexually abused; among them, 52.94% were boys and 47.06% were girls. Highest sexual abuse was reported in Assam (57.27%) followed by Delhi (41%), Andhra Pradesh (33.87%) and Bihar (33.27%).

  • 2015: 12-year-old girl raped at knife-point in a school at Budakheri village in Muzaffarnagar in;
  • 2016: Thane van driver raped 2 school girls for 6 months ;
  • 2017: 57-year-old founder and trustee of Andheri School in Mumbai raped a 3-year-old student on the premises;
  • 2017: 7-year-old boy from Ryan International School in Gurugram, butchered by a van driver on campus;
  • 2017: 40-year-old security guard of a public school in Shahdara’s Gandhi Nagar raped a 5-year-old girl inside a classroom;
  • 2017: 4-year-old assaulted sexually in Bengaluru School; &
  • 2017: 5-year-old girl raped in classroom of Delhi's Tagore Public School by a peon.

It looks like India has learnt nothing whatsoever from the Nirbhaya verdict which was essentially meant to be a deterrent to rapists.  Although the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012, the Criminal Law (amendment) Act 2013, the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1972 were formulated to effectively address the heinous crimes of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, it appears that the magnitude of child sexual abuse is extraordinarily high (especially within school premises in the recent past) since the laws are not very stringent.

There is no magic wand to end this problem of sexual exploitation and abuse of children, however preventive measures can be taken to avoid this scourge especially when it happens within school a premise.

Educational institutions must be owned and run by good educationalists. ‘Quality education’ is a fundamental right to every child guaranteed by the Indian Constitution; it is also upheld by the Supreme Law of the land.  Quality education includes; efficient teaching faculty, excellent infrastructure and also non-teaching specialist staff (which comprises of drivers, peons, assistants, guards etc.)

It is an open fact that certain high criteria are fixed for employing teaching faculty. On the other hand, bare minimum standards are neither fixed nor expected from that of non-teaching staff.  Rapes and murders of children by non-teaching staff members are more predominant in this time and age and therefore it is the prime responsibility of every educational institution to employ staff of proficient standards.

One of the focal reasons as to why child rapes and other assaults are comparatively less aboard is primarily because of the norms that are affixed in the employment process.  An educational institution demands a Federal Check Certificate from prospective employees in the United States of America. Obtaining an International Child Protection Certificate, which is nothing but a criminal record check for people looking to work with children is made mandatory in the United Kingdom.  Such practices must also be adopted in India and the Government of India must take the sole responsibility of conducting such background checks on individuals and issue certificates which must characteristically certify such a prospective employee.

The educational institutions demanding such certificates will provide reassurance to parents that they don’t employ unsuitable people with criminal record at the very least.  It will indeed help to protect children from either habitual or convicted child sexual offenders looking to work with children.

Once employed, it is also the responsibility of the management to firstly train the employee and constantly monitor him/her so as to avoid any dim-witted contributions from their side.  The employees must also make some pledge accordingly from committing or engaging in any untoward activities.

In this digital world, although privacy is made a fundamental right, CCVT must be fixed in every nook and corner of corridors in schools in the best interest of upholding safety and security of every school going child.

Sex education is probably the saviour of this scourge, from 2019, children will be taught about healthy adult relationships from the age of 4, and sex education will be compulsory in secondary schools in the Northern Ireland.  However there are caveats, the age at which they should be taught about sex education is where perplexity arises.

Nonetheless, educational institutions must make sure that the teachers explain sex education in a way that every child understands.  Enlightening a child about ‘right touch and wrong touch” can probably be the genesis.  The management must also create awareness programmes for children in school, parents, faculty members as well as non-teaching staff, collectively and/or independently.  A renowned educationist Prince Gajendra Babu added that ‘when sex education is introduced it must also be sensitised, in addition to this gender equity and health education must be simultaneously introduced’

A psychologist, preferably a child psychologist must be employed in every school who must solely identify potential problems in children, faculty and other staff. By doing this the psychologist can evaluate potential threats and help the institution in eradicating parasites who may perhaps engage in tampering with the life of young children.  On the other hand, Prince Gajendra Babu believes that “A child is not a patient; therefore the need for a psychologist within a campus is dim and redundant, a committed, trustworthy teacher with empathy towards students will have the capacity to build confidence in every child and solve potential problems that a child may apprehend on campus”.

In this time and age, every parent is confined and focused in their respective jobs, much attention is not given to their own child very often.  They either tend to worry about their past and/or their future and they never live their present as a result of which some face dreadful, but rather pitiful situations.  It has to be the duty of every parent (especially the mother) to care for his or her child and to constantly watch over the child’s activities and behaviour.  In the alternative, the parent must approach the child with all tenderness, affection and patience and to identify the cause for such adverse behaviour and with due diligence help and educate the child in dealing with issues pertaining to sex - education, gender equity, right touch wrong touch, health education and so on.

The archaic law that governs child rape must be buried.  It is outrageous to keep rape of an adult and rape of a child on equal footing.  A separate legislation or the surviving legislation must firstly classify rape broadly, as such the definition of rape must be altered.  Every child rapist must be considered as a serial killer and stringent punishment should be given, a second chance must never be a choice (regardless of any remorse shown) for those unruly child rapists.  Furthermore, in the name of police investigation, magisterial inquiry and so on, justice must not be denied.

In addition to this, separate courts must be established primarily to dispose of child rape and murders, such courts must also marshal those cases within a short span of time (which must also be specified explicitly).  In case of admitted liability of a child rapist/murdered, punishments must be given within a span of 48 hours bearing in mind that they are targeting the most vulnerable generation.  In the words of late Legend V.R. Krishna Iyer, the judiciary in India is burdened with a lot of work and therefore judgment of rape cases comes very late, sometimes it comes so late that either party has died, so there should be speedy trials in rape cases (especially in child rape cases) so that the victim gets justice since delayed justice is denied justice.  To reiterate late legend V.R. Krishna Iyer’s dictum there is a pressing ‘need for socially sensitised Judges who can act as better statutory armours’ against such outrage.

More needs to be done in govt schools
Chennai: At a time when the cases of sexual assault on children are escalating in educational institutions, the subject of 'safety' seems to be a bigger question ahead. Even though the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act mandates schools to embrace strict safety measures, there are huge disparities in the private and government schools.

While majority of private schools are equipped with the CCTV network, such basic security measures seem to be a far cry in government schools. "There is staff on the rounds and a comprehensive CCTV network that ensure the safety of children on the school campus. Also, teachers give students a lot of comfort level that helps them to have a free discussion," said Dr K. Mohana, principal of Modern Senior Secondary School.

Government schools, on the other hand, are deprived of any facilities. A senior staffer of the Adi Dravidar Welfare Higher Secondary School in Moulivakkam said, "There are no CCTV cameras in our school. It has to be approved by the chief education officer office."

The concept of sex education is confined to students of high school, even though children around 4 years of age are being sexually assaulted in the country. Most of the schools, Deccan Chronicle spoke to, admitted that their counselling is mostly on suicide prevention and stress management.

 "We counsel students of high school twice a year. Most of it relates to the measures to cope up with the exam tension. Sometimes, we also sensitise students about the good and bad touch, but not to students below 10 years of age," said senior staff from the government school.

Top court, CBSE step in

  • The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre and states on a plea by two women lawyers seeking framing of safety conditions for protection of children in schools. A bench of chief justice Dipak Misra and justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud sought replies in three weeks.
  • CBSE has issued notice to Ryan, saying death could have been averted. The board asked why the school’s affiliation should not be withdrawn.

Need for communication most pressing now
Rohini (name changed) was sexually abused by her own brother in the absence of her mother Suneeta, who was working and a single parent to her two children. Even though Rohini informed her mother about the incident, she neither believed her nor took any action to check if it was true.

After two long years of abuse, Rohini committed suicide. Police interrogation revealed that Rohini was sexually abused and tortured for more than two years by her brother, who was later arrested. “I thought Rohini wanted to move to a hostel and she was giving excuses for the same. Failing to spend enough time with children, I did not try to talk to them about it. I did not know that her own brother would kill her instead of protecting her,” laments Suneeta.

In another instance, Ramani was shocked to learn that her driver assaulted her son Karthik quite often and he had informed his schoolteacher about it. Ramani saw no possibility of sexual assault of a boy and did not believe him when Karthik told her the same. Now, Ramani is leading a campaign to spread awareness against sexual harassment of men.

In spite of several such incidents of sexual harassment by men, our society still has not learnt to identify the problem early and save women. The same happens to children too because of our inability to communicate to them freely. The inhibitions of Indian society are such, say psychologists.

The scenario will change only if mothers try to talk to children early and teach them about what is ‘good touch’ and what is ‘bad touch’. When this newspaper contacted a few parents, most mothers seemed positive about educating children on sexual abuse. However, fathers are still hesitant to talk about it to their children.

Though children may be uneasy in the beginning, they should be told to report such incidents to others including friends, peers, family members and teachers if they are abused. In case of men, fathers need to sensitise boys about sexual abuse by men to their sons such as it may be easier for boys to open up to their fathers on such matters. To attain this ideal of communication is a huge challenge facing Indian society.

Don’t shy away from sex education
The large numbers of sexual offences against children recorded in the country brings forth the need of communicating about what needs to be done to better protect the children. Sex education in India is more restricted to sanitary napkins, a lesson on reproductive system in schools, a few medical terms and about pregnancy.

The idea of sex education to reach out to the children in our society as they grow up still remains a taboo in our country. “In India, we get to know about sexual abuse of a child only if post-traumatic stress and behavioural changes are noticed, or the child is physically injured. Children fail to talk about it to their parents,” said senior psychologist Dr Vivian Kapil.

“In western countries, children are provided with sex education at the early age of six or less, whereas Indian parents and teachers are scared of talking about sex. We need to educate the child as soon as he/she is exposed to the outside world, but sex education remains a western concept for many,” he said. Sexual abuse in childhood haunts children all their life and can lead to serious consequences such as depression, anxiety, addiction and suicide, he warns.

Children in India are provided access to the television and the internet at an early age where they are exposed to nudity and violence. “The content children read or watch on Internet developing an anxiety about physical intimacy, sex, and physical changes, but parents and teachers, tending to link it to cultural and spiritual factors, hesitate to talk about it.  This paves the way to miscommunication of information,” says psychologist Dr Prabhu Das.

He says that misinformation on sex not only leads to experimentation, but can push children into contemplating suicide due to guilt later. Hence, developing conversation on sexual behaviour by parents and teachers is important for healthy physical and mental growth of the children.

Tags: child sexual abuse, sexual violence