“Children should be carefree, playing in the sun: not living in a NIGHTMARE in the darkness of the soul”- Dave Pelzer
Fifty three percent 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 all 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 fearing what will happen next! But this also means the predator- the criminal is left scot-free! But in reality, after the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act 2012, and in the following years the scenario has changed. 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 accused are tried and convicted and punished the more it will act as a deterrent and chances of the child abuse incidents decreasing will be higher.
Defining Child Sexual Abuse: 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.
Disclosure of Abuse :
Many cases of child abuse are never reported because the child is reluctant to confide into 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 role of parents , family and friends is very important: The child is already hurt, scarred 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.. the family should help the child to develop the trust and disclose about the incident of abuse. The parents and family should not panic! Remember the safety and wellbeing of the child should be the top most priority!
When a child is sharing an incident of abuse 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- that you will keep it secret – tell the child what exactly 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 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.
Once the disclosure has happened and you are sure that the child has suffered sexual abuse.. following are the steps needed to be taken
Dealing with Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)
- 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 National Child Relief Helpline– 1098 besides filing a report with the police.. There are many NGOs working in this front who can be reached for support at the same time– 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- and in case of the absence of parents someone the child trusts or the head of the hospital.
Role of Police/ Special Juvenile Police unit:
- Determine if the child needs to be produced before Child welfare Committee (CWC) if s/he is found in need of protection n 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.
Guidelines on how the child is to be interacted or treated by different bodies during the course of investigation: (As mentioned in the POCSO act in coherence with the guideline from WHO n UNICEF)
During Medical Examination:
- The doctor has to obtain consent from the family or the child (if above 12yrs) before doing the medical examination
- Presence of the family member/ a person of confidence of the child to be present during the procedure
- The attitude should be child friendly
During reporting : ( Role of Police and CWC)
- The child should be approached with extreme sensitivity
- One has to attempt to see things from the child’s point of view
- The child has to be believed– according to the POCSO act the onus is on the accused to prove innocent- not on the child
- Child should be interacted as per the development level
- Safety and confidentiality of the child should be maintained at all times.
Role of Special Court:
- Special court will/should give frequent break to the child victim if needed
- Special court should ensure the environment is child friendly and allow anyone of child’s confidence along with the child
- Special court should ensure that the child is not called repeatedly to testify in the court
- Special court will ensure no aggressive questioning or character assassination happens for the child and should maintain the dignity of the child at all time of trial
- The special court will ensure that the identity of the child is not disclosed at any point of time during trial or investigation.
At all point of time the Parents & 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 – “no matter what my family is there to support me”. Parents and family need to ensure that at all point of time at any and every place the child’s dignity is maintained.
A heinous crime like child sexual abuse needs to be reported and investigated everytime 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 all one needs to do and what all 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 – its an injustice to the entire society… so report if and when you learn about any such crime happening- remember- law is on your side!
# Information source credit: *User Handbook of POCSO act by ncpcr.gov.in , thebetterindia.com , citizenmatters.in
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