My uncle thinks I’m cute, so he likes playing with me. But I don’t like the way he hugs and kisses me. He makes me do things and says this is our little secret. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared to tell mummy because she likes my uncle and won’t believe me.”
A seven-year child’s words posted on a Bangalore based Madhyam’s website
Someone may be abusing you or as a parent you may be anxious about your child or you may have been abused as a child but the memories still come back to you.
How do we understand Child Sexual Abuse? It is a crime hidden within the family. Children in the age group of 5-12 years are at great risk and most abuse is pre-planned. Sexual abusers of children are generally serial and long-term abusers.
Children have very few ways of confronting or escape. Adults tend not to believe them. As adults, survivors of such abuse keep going through the trauma and need to be understood and supported.
What is it?
Child Sexual Abuse, very simply, is the abuse of a vulnerable, under age person by an older and more powerful one. It can take all sorts of forms verbal, visual, tactile, exhibitionism, pornography, fondling… anything that sexually stimulates.
If any of the actions mentioned have happened to you or anyone you know, please do consider calling it Child Sexual Abuse.
Child Sexual Abuse can be described as any and all sexual acts involving children or minors, like:
- Touching a child with sexual intent.
- Forcibly kissing a child
- Touching or fondling the child’s private parts
- Having the child touch or fondle an adult’s private parts
- Forcing the child to show her private parts or having the child see an adult’s private parts
- Forcing a child to touch her private parts, undress or bathe in front of an adult
- Sexual assault, including molestation, intercourse, oral sex and sodomy
- Photographing or filming a child in the nude
- Forcing the child to view pornographic materials (photographs, video, film, the internet, or any other means)
- Using the child in pornographic activities (whether through photographs, video, film, the internet, or any other means)
- using the child in prostitution or other sexually exploitative activities
Child Sexual Abuse is also when another child, less than 18 years and usually elder to the child victim, performs sexual acts upon or with the child.
Who are the offenders?
Child abusers do not have a distinct profile. They are usually known to the child, may appear cultured and most of them display no signs of a personality disorder. Often the father, uncle, friend turns into a predator, which makes the child doubt whether the “experience” is good, bad or just incidental.
The offenders generally fall into two broad categories – paedophiles or fixated persons and regressed individuals. Paedophiles are dangerously good planners, manipulative and often clever persons. On an average, they have 300 victims in their lifetime and some have gone over 1,000 victims!
Regressed offenders are more common and come mostly from within the family. The regressed offenders usually abuse children to relieve the stress they are unable to cope with. Hence their victims are usually children from within the family who are accessible and over whom they can exert power. Their numbers are less – five to seven victims.
Who are the victims?
Victims are young boys and girls.
Boys are equally affected by sexual abuse as girls. Boys may suffer more when men abuse them sexually as they develop the fear that they are homosexuals themselves or have been infected and have to become homosexuals. Also, Indian families do not protect boys as much as they do girls. This may also be responsible for over 90 per cent of sexual abusers being men.
“I am filled with shame, disgust, guilt and low self-esteem. What I thought all along was affection, I realise now – after 12 years of sexual relationship with my uncle – was sexual abuse. “- Anjana, 15 years.
The impact on young children is immediate as well as long term.
Being one of the most vulnerable sections of society, children have few mechanisms to defend themselves or to report the abuse they face and generally go through severe psychological stress. Many children fear being called liars, blamed or stigmatised and may never disclose their experiences to anybody; others do not know how to get help; they often endure many years of abuse before they can break free. Most of them swing from emotional and behavioural problems to abnormal sexual behaviour and psychiatric disorders. Suicidal tendencies and drug abuse are common long-term effects.
As Child Sexual Abuse is an issue not much discussed in public forums, there are a lot of misunderstandings. Some frequently asked questions or common notions are:
- Does Child Sexual Abuse really take place in India?
52% children from 13 States reported sexual abuse in a 2007 study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The biggest myth about child sexual abuse is that it doesn’t happen within the family, that only a stranger could do all these acts to an innocent child.
More than 50% of child abusers are part of the family. The abuser is known and trusted by the family or is a family member. A brother, a parent, an uncle, a cousin, a family friend, a domestic help or a neighbour, are most often the ones who take advantage of the trust and intimacy they have with the child and sexually assault, abuse and exploit. Moreover, this abuse is a very prolonged and extremely damaging; it often starts when the child is little (around 4/5 years of age) and continues until the late teens.
- Sexual abusers of children cannot be abnormal?
Men who abuse children can be the most ordinary of men you might meet on a daily basis.
A Child Abuser can be the man who looks after his family well, a man who prays with his wife, a doting grandfather, a caring uncle, a friendly and polite college student, a helpful neighbour, your hard-working boss, your local corporator, a sophisticated lawyer, a social activist, a teenager in school or college, etc. etc. The abuser could be rich/poor, educated/illiterate, young/old, belong to any State or culture of India, and live in a slum or a skyscraper.
- How is it possible to sexually abuse a girl who has not reached puberty?
Child Sexual Abusers prey upon children. Whether the child is sexually mature, i.e. has reached puberty, or not is immaterial to them.
Children of 5-12 years of age are most at risk. Girls and women report sexual abuse as beginning when they were very young and continuing till their late teens when they were finally able to resist their abuser.
- Are girls more vulnerable than boys?
Both are victims of abuse. More than girls, boys tend not to report such incidents because of the fear of being labelled homosexual.
- When the abused is a boy, is the offender a man?
Most offenders are men though women too are guilty.
- What are the effects of such abuse on children?
There can be deep emotional and/or physical damage, which also depends on factors like when the abuse occurred, by whom, family support, mental health and age of the child. The victim usually has trouble with his relationships and experiences a constant feeling of shame and worthlessness.
- Can a nine or ten-year old child deal with the trauma of such abuse?
Children are confused but are incredibly resilient and can cope very well. They actually convince themselves that what is happening is good.
The child might like the person but not the relationship. Sometimes, the child enjoys the relationship but it is told to keep it a secret. Sometimes children like to be touched but they do not like the person. At times a child who feels loved may feel more important than the mother or aunt. Sometimes girls push it to the back of their minds until they have children or till they develop a long term relationship.
- Reporting Child Sexual Abuse will cause harm to the family.
We are often more concerned about ‘what will people say’ than the grave harm being done to a child.
Culturally, Indians tend to prioritise family harmony and honour over the child’s trauma and pain. The abused child is likely to be even more traumatised if the abuser is not confronted and punished and if the harm done to her is not acknowledged as wrong. Not reporting Child Sexual Abuse or keeping quiet about it encourages the abuser to continue the abuse blatantly and to also abuse other children.
- Is it not possible to prevent child abuse?
Most offenders depend on secrecy. If there is no secrecy, then they will not be able to abuse as no culture supports abuse of children. So we have to start talking about it and also talk to the children about `touching rules’… It is also important to build a support system consisting of parents and teachers to whom the child can confide in case of an offence.
The National Study on Child Abuse  was conducted by Prayas Institute of Juvenile Justice in collaboration with Ministry of Women and Child Development and supported by UNICEF, Save the Children Fund (U.K.). They interviewed 12,477 children, 2324 young adults, 2449 stakeholders in 13 states in India. The findings are shocking.
Abuse on children can range from physical beating to mental harassment to sexual abuse.
- Two out of every three children are physically abused and every second child faced emotional abuse.
- Of the 69 per cent of physically abused children, 54.68 per cent were boys. An equal percentage of boys and girls faced emotional abuse.
- Of the children physically and emotionally abused in family situations, parental abuse constituted 88.6 percent and 83 percent respectively.
- 65 per cent or two out of three children experienced corporal punishment.
- Of the 53.22 per cent of children who faced one or more forms of sexual abuse, 5.6 percent reported being sexually assaulted. The worst affected were children on streets, at work and in institutional care.
- 50 percent of the abusers were known to the child and in positions of trust and responsibility.
- 32.1 percent of children had experimented with one of the substances like alcohol, bhang, ganja, charas, heroin, and smack.
- India has the shocking distinction of having the world’s largest number of sexually abused children with:
- a child below 16 years raped every 155th minute
- a child below 10 raped every 13th hour
- one in every 10 children sexually abused at any point in time
Are you a survivor?
“I don’t remember most of my childhood, except for brief flashes of when I was about three. I blocked out the experience of abuse, as many survivors do. I was 13 when I spoke to my parents, who got upset, made sure the perpetrator didn’t visit us any more, and told me to get on with my life. It was only in my mid-30s that I found it impossible to ignore the sexual abuse I had undergone as a child… a psychotherapist worked with me for almost two years to help me to heal…” – [Women’s Feature Service, 6-7-2003]
As a survivor, victim or concerned parent, it helps to know what others have gone through to comprehend your own experiences. The child goes into what is called the ‘survivor’s cycle’.
Firstly, the child is bewildered and confused by the sexual abuse. What is he, or she, doing? What is happening to me, I cannot understand. I do not like it but I do not know how to stop it. Is what he is doing normal and okay? Where can I be safe? I cannot save myself, I cannot do anything right.
This leads to self-estrangement. I am always wrong. Why can’t I be like everyone else? I am not normal. I am not important. No one cares about me. No one cares how I feel. I don’t count. I do not want to be me.
And this leads to the saddest part, the wrong set of survival skills. I have to hide inside myself. I have to protect myself. I cannot let people see who or how I really am. How can I keep from exposing the real me?
Now the child feels trapped: I cannot change my life or myself. I can’t change anything. I am responsible for who I have becomes. I am responsible for what happened to me because I did not stop it, I did not tell anyone either. I must keep the secret to survive. It is my fault.
And all of this leads to a negative sense of self: I do not know who I am. I deserve whatever I get. If they really knew me they would dislike me and be disgusted by me. I am a phoney, I am only about falsehood. I do not deserve better. I am a bad person, everyone is better than me.
Dr. Shekhar Seshadri, of the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Science, Bangalore is quoted in Bitter Chocolate by Pinki Virani (Penguin, 2000): “Survivors and parents should not blame themselves or their children for not reporting the abuse. Children understand the social taboo in India on talking about or discussing sex; they understand the negative reactions and extreme discomfort of adults in their family and immediate social circle to matters related to sex.”
Children usually do not report the abuse for several reasons:
– the child may be under severe psychological stress
– the child may not have the sexual words, vocabulary or language to express or describe the abuse
– the child is confused; children often just do not know what is happening or why it is happening; their knowledge of sex is generally limited and their understanding of ‘why this adult is doing these things’ to them can be very vague, and bewilder them hugely.
– even when awareness dawns of the abuse, some children may want to forget, erase, push away the memories or prefer to believe that the abuse has not happened; they may want to ‘lock away’ such memories of sexual acts
– if the abuser is a family member, the child may fear losing the love of that person and may just keep quiet. The child is extremely vulnerable and may think that her security and that of her family may be taken away if she exposes the abuser
– the child may not know the difference between a good/safe touch (affectionate, non-sexual) and a bad/unsafe touch (sexual, exploitative), i.e. they do not have sex education or sex information
– the child may feel that she will not be believed, or worse, be blamed for the abuse
– the abuser has threatened the child, through physical violence and emotional blackmail, if the abuse is reported to anyone
– the child may feel wrongly, responsible for the abuse
– the abuse is happening at home and/or the abuser is known to the child, who does not realise that she is being abused; she is simply being obedient to a person she trusts
– the abuser has disguised the abuse as a special privilege, or as his ‘love’ for her, and she thinks this is a normal way of showing love.
There might be silence surrounding Child Sexual Abuse but the signs are quite obvious and can be noticed by attentive parents or friends. The child may experience various problems.
A survivor might remember her or his problems like:
– Have difficulty walking or sitting
– Have pain, bleeding, redness, swelling or itchiness in the genital areas
– May not be able to urinate or defecate without feeling pain
– Have unexplained marks, vaginal or anal injuries, other wounds and bruises
– Have frequent nightmares, be unable to sleep, be afraid to sleep alone, be afraid of sleeping in the dark, bed wet
– Refuse to communicate, become silent or withdrawn
-Try to consistently avoid (a) certain person/s
– Seem frightened or depressed
– Talk about or exhibit highly unusual sexual behaviour or awareness
– Develop a venereal disease
– Show significant loss of appetite and/or weight
– Show a sudden disinterest in previously enjoyed activities (studies, games, etc.)
– Show an abnormal interest in, or talk about, sexual matters
– Have repeated throat and/or urinary infections or abdominal pain
From abused child to a disturbed adult
“A number of people abused as children carry their problems into adult life. People who come for counselling on marital discord, suicidal tendencies, severe depression, psychosomatic problems and sexuality crises issues are often victims of abuse,” says a therapist.
A survey done on suicide at NIMHANS found that 80 percent of those studied had been sexually abused as children. Pinky Virani, the author of Bitter Chocolate, agrees that victims could end up as deeply disturbed adults. “Most of the boys are unable to decide on their sexual identity and end up oscillating between bisexual relationships,” she says, adding that many abused boys could grow up to be bad fathers and unsympathetic husbands. The most common effects are negative self-perception, confusion of sexual identity and preferences, physical and psychosomatic illnesses, shame, guilt, addictions, self-destructive behaviour and an overall inability to form healthy, stable sexual relationships with the opposite sex or, conversely, a tendency to be promiscuous.
Help yourself and others
Take some steps towards supporting and healing. The most basic one is to speak it out, tell someone and trust the person to help. Silence encourages offenders. Secrecy has to be broken by encouraging talking to children about sexual abuse, listening to them, believing them, and recognising symptoms such as physical complaints and behavioural and psychological changes. Silence does not mean all is fine with the child. A child’s silence can be eloquent, only, if we care to listen.
If you, your child or a child known to you is being sexually abused
- Believe what the child tells you. And accept that the child is not lying, imagining things or exaggerating.
- Remember sexual abuse is never a child’s fault. Communicate very clearly to the child that she will not be blamed for the abuse.
- Allow her to confide in you at her own pace. Do not panic or criticise.
- The izzat, honour, virtue or shame of the family does not lie in the little girl’s vagina.
- The child needs support, sympathy, care and love to recover from her trauma.
- Do not keep quiet about it, this is not a private issue; children being abused in India is a national, public issue.
- The child now needs your help and defence strategies to stop and counter her sexual abuse.
- Remember it is more difficult for boys to speak because they might be accused of being a sissy.
The following are some steps that you may want to take to get help. You or a friend needs to make a detailed record of the date, time and specific details of the sexual abuse.
- You might want to contact the nearest Childline, family counselling centre/NGO dealing with Child Sexual Abuse; ask for help and advice in stopping the abuse.
- Ask for medical help in helping the child heal, both physically and psychologically. Consult a doctor to check for physical injuries as soon as possible and get a written medical report. The child may benefit from seeing a qualified child psychologist. Make sure that any counselling given to the child is by a health professional trained in post-Child Sexual Abuse mental health; a non-specialised counsellor can cause a lot more damage.
- Ask for advice and support in reporting the abuse to the police. Ask for legal help in filing a case against the abuser.
- Keep the abuser away from the child; if the abuser is a family member who shares the roof, do not let him alone with the child.
- Keep the other key, discreet members of the family and the community informed of the abuse but make sure that the child is not re-victimised or stigmatised, physically, psychologically or emotionally.
- Take all possible advice, guidance and support to stop the abuse but inform the child about the steps you are taking.
There are several misunderstandings and common notions about Child Sexual Abuse. We mention a few of them surrounding children, adults, mothers and others.
Children or adolescents often fantasise, make up stories and lie about being sexually abused.
Most disclosures by children are found to be true. The fantasy theory combined with society’s denial of incest/child sexual abuse serves to blame the victim for the abuse.
Children provoke and seduce adults into having sex with them.
Children are innocent and vulnerable. They have little knowledge of sex and of adult sexuality and can in no way be held responsible for adult’s responses. This myth serves to shift responsibility from the abuser to the child.
Incest/child sexual abuse only happens to ‘bad’ girls; look at her behaviour; she’s not a very nice type.
These statements put many negative labels on to the victim in an attempt to minimise or deny the effects of incest/child sexual abuse. ‘Anti-social’ behaviours are an effect rather than a cause of sexual abuse in childhood.
An adolescent or an older child who possibly knows about sex and understands what is happening to her should have been able to stop it or tell someone about it.
No matter how old the victim is, the abuser is always more powerful. The victim is no match for the craftiness of the abuser and she does not have the resources to stop the abuse from happening or to tell someone about it, especially if the abuser is a close family member.
When the incestuous relationship is deeply caring and loving, it is not harmful to the child.
The actual sexual encounter may be brutal or tender, painful or pleasurable, but it is always destructive to the child. The fact that the offender appears caring, gentle and loving to the child can be a very disturbing aspect of the abuse and may leave a strong legacy of self-blame, guilt and mistrust of oneself and others.
Incest/child sexual abuse is harmless and does not affect the child adversely.
For any child, sexual contact with an adult, especially a trusted relative, creates a significant trauma which often has long-lasting effects.
Men decide to have sex with their daughters or other children because their wives won’t have sex with them or cannot satisfy them sexually.
Men who sexually abuse children do so in addition to, rather than instead of, having sex with their wives. This myth shifts responsibility from the offender to his wife or the child’s mother.
Mothers always know, either consciously or unconsciously, that sexual abuse is happening to their child.
Men make sure that there are no witnesses around when they abuse. Many mothers react with shock when they learn about the abuse. Often mothers, who do know about the abuse, are in no position to prevent it because of their own powerlessness.
It is the mother’s job to protect her children. Therefore she is equally responsible for the abuse.
A mother’s failure to protect her children does not mean she is responsible for the abuser’s actions. Child protection is the responsibility of every adult and does not rest solely on the mother.
About Abusive Men:
Children are more likely to be abused by strangers.
Majority of child abusers are family members or those men that are known to the child and her family. Strangers do not have the same access to children.
Abusers are abnormal, sick or mentally disturbed.
Abusers are in fact characterised by their normality and diversity. These labels seek to explain and excuse the actions of abusers.
A ‘normal’ man needs and has the right to regular sex.
No man’s needs give him the right to impose himself on, or demand sex from another.
About adult survivors
If the abuse really happened, survivors would not wait so long to speak about it.
Most survivors find it extremely difficult as children to talk about the abuse. Silence about the abuse is not an indication that it did not happen. All studies show that it leaves a deep traumatic impact which takes years to heal.
Survivors should forget about it and move on.
Sexual abuse in childhood has debilitating long-term consequences on lives of adult survivors. Because of the nature and dynamics of such abuse, it is not so easy to ‘just forget’ and continue to live as if nothing has happened.
Understanding for Prevention
“The main reason for why sexual abuse of children is rampant is the code of silence for family reputation. Those who pay the price are the victims whose private pain is minimised or rendered irrelevant.”
As in most violence cases, there are numerous reasons. One of the main causes of the high prevalence of child abuse in India is the way children are perceived – virtually as properties of adults.
Bangalore-based child psychiatrist Dr. Shekar Seshadri says, often, in protecting the family structure, decisions and judgments are based on the concept that the individual derives strength from the family, and it, in turn, from the community, and the community, from the country; this tends to drown the needs and trauma of the individual.
Says Radhika Chandiramani, coordinator of the Delhi-based TARSHI, an organisation that deals with reproductive and sexual health issues: “In India, children are expected to respect and obey adults. This is a major problem that perpetuates child sexual abuse. How can the child say `no’?”
In her documentary “The Children We Sacrifice”, filmmaker, Grace Poore calls sexually abused children the victims of a culture that prioritises family harmony, honour and duty more than individual trauma and pain. The “silence about sex” culture forbids parents from talking to their children about sexuality, and frowns upon any non-sexual intimate relationship with the opposite gender.
There are four driving factors that lead to child sexual abuse. If we understand the way it is done, there are chances we can prevent it.
- The abuser’s deep need to sexually abuse a child
- Convincing oneself that it is okay and no one will know about it
- Building a good relationship with the child’s family
- Gaining the child’s trust and love
This process of convincing and persuasion takes time. Prevention strategies can be at multiple levels: with children, early detection, and with co-ordination between social workers, the police and the court.
A member of The Forum Against Child Sexual Exploitation said, “It is time to remove the taboo around this issue. We have to help children to protect themselves. If we feel embarrassed to talk about it, how can we advise our children?”
- The difference between a ‘good’/safe touch (affectionate, non-sexual) and a ‘bad’/unsafe touch (sexual, exploitative) has to be made very clear to the child.
- The child should have information about her genitalia and the understanding that her body and especially her private parts cannot be touched by anyone against her will. Sex education and information about sexual abuse is essential.
- The child should be told that someone touching in a ‘bad’ way is not her fault; it is wrong on the man’s part and should definitely not be allowed.
- It should be made very clear to the child that she does not have to accept hugs and kisses she is uncomfortable with and that she has the right to speak up and say ‘no’ to the adult no matter who it is.
Using The Law
Although child sexual abuse is rampant, India has no separate legislation to deal with it. The legal remedies available include the laws on rape (Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code), sexual molestation (Section 354 of the IPC) and sodomy (Section 377 of the IPC). The problem with using these laws is that they have the adult offender in mind and only recognise sexual crimes involving penile penetration.
Laws on rape are based on penile penetration and medical evidence. Such evidence is very difficult to get, as Child Sexual Abuse is usually not one isolated incident but a series of incidents; it even involves episodes in which the offender does not touch the victim.
The sexual molestation law covers all sexual offences “that outrage the modesty of the victim”, other than penile penetration. However, these two are bailable offences and attract only punishments of a maximum of two years in jail and/or a fine of few thousand rupees.
Only Section 377, which criminalises sodomy, is harsh. Though this section can be used in the case of child sexual abuse, its reference to “unusual sexual offences” makes it difficult for child victims to use this option as a legal remedy.
The Indian Penal Code has a series of laws which are tangentially applicable to the sexual abuse of children. The majority are bailable offences and only give punishment of a minimum of three months to a maximum of two or three years in jail and/or a fine of few thousand rupees. These punishments are highly inadequate for the seriousness of the crime. Some of these laws are ..
- Section 293 that prohibits the sale, hire, distribution, or circulation of obscene objects of literature to children
- Section 294 that prohibits obscene acts or utterances in public places
- Section 323 if simple hurt has been caused
- Section 324, if hurt has been caused with dangerous weapons or means
- Section 325 for causing grievous hurt to a child
- Section 326 if grievous hurt has been caused
- Section 342, 343, 344, for wrongful confinement or imprisonment
- Section 354 for sexual assault that outrages a woman’s modesty
- Section 363 for kidnapping
- Section 377 for sodomy
- Section 503, 506, for criminal intimidation, threatening to cause injury
- Section 509 for indecent behaviour
- Section 511 for attempt to rape
- Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, provides punishment for cruelty to a juvenile or child with up to six months in jail, or a fine, or both.
- Sections 452 and 458 can be used if the abuser does not live in the same house as the child. They are for house trespass after preparation for causing hurt, assault and wrongful restraint and carry a punishment of 7 to 14 years.
- Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, provides for punishment of a person having charge of or control over a child if s/he causes or allows the child unnecessary mental or physical suffering; punishment is imprisonment up to six months.
All the laws at present being used for child sexual abuse are meant for sexual assault on adult women and do not consider the special vulnerability of children. There are some glaring lacunae which need to be understood as they will feed into the making of a new law.
The definition of sexual abuse is restricted as these laws concentrate on rape or sodomy. All other severely traumatic sexual acts done to the child like finger penetration, penetration with an object, touching or fondling the child’s private parts, oral sex, masturbation, the use of children in pornography, exposing children to sexual body parts or sexual acts, etc. – can only be dealt with by other legislation that have lesser punitive value. For example, if a child has been fondled in her genital area, and a finger or an object has been inserted into her vagina but there is no penile penetration, Section 354 of the IPC is applied, which is for ‘outraging the modesty’ of a woman. Further, most laws provide bail to the abuser which means the abuser can threaten, intimidate or further abuse the child and/or members of her family.
There is no differentiation between a care-giver or family member like father or relative and a stranger perpetuating the abuse. A care-giver or family member abusing a child is not only a violation of the law but of trust and love. Should they not have a greater punishment?
At present the onus of proof is on the child. She/he, through the lawyer, will have to prove that the abuse took place. Considering the age, vulnerability and trauma, it is possible to shift the burden of proof to the accused.
Indian assault and rape law largely depends on proof like medical evidence and marks of injury. Because of the nature of the abuse, the reporting of the crime might be delayed, so it is necessary to use other methods.
Laws should allow for children’s evidence to be audio and video recorded and presented in court as evidence. In Israel, the child’s statements can be recorded and presented in court by a counsellor from the police department.
Lastly, the amount of punishment should be increased. India does not treat incest as a separate issue. Britain, on the other hand, has punished incest since 1908 with a prison term of 14 years. In Germany, sex with a close relative is punished with three years in prison.
The Delhi-based NGO Sakshi filed a petition in the Supreme Court, which pressurised the government to begin the process of formulating new laws and policies. It will also be promoting counselling councils, child guidance centres and adolescent clinics in various socio-medical institutions. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment too has sponsored a child helpline (phone number 1098), which works in 37 cities across India. These are 24-hour referral centres affiliated to NGOs that look at long-term rehabilitation, medical, psychological and police aid for the victims.
At present, Goa is the only State in India that has framed a law (Goa Children’s Act, 2003) to deal with offences against children, especially child trafficking. Airport authorities, border police, railway police, traffic police, hotel owners, have all been made responsible under the law for protection of children and for reporting offences against children.
The new Indian law should take into consideration the definition, the nature of crime and suitable punishment as well as making the entire judicial process more child-friendly.
According to a report by Voluntary Health Association of India, Delhi, a child victim suffers four times – at the time of the offence, when narrating the incident, during medical examination and if brought to the court. The average time taken for a sexual abuse case to find its way from the lower courts to the higher courts is 10-15 years.
Lessons can be learnt from countries which have also set up counselling centres, sex-offender registries, Child Protection Units linked to the police, Special Children’s Courts that deal specifically with crimes by adults against children, etc.
The Courts themselves are child-friendly where the child’s traumatic state is recognised and provided for. Care is taken that the child does not feel threatened or intimated in the presence of the lawyers, judges and other strangers examining her testimony and that the child does not see the abuser. British courts have special children’s courts with the rule that crimes against children must come up for hearing within three weeks of the case being filed. The child’s statement, examination and cross-examination can be done in a special, private room and video-taped; this video is played in court at the trial.
Another huge glaring gap is child pornography. No law on children, women or the proposed amendment of the Information Technology Act, 2000, takes it into consideration.
Chennai based, Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) went on record to protest the dropping of an expert committee suggestion that a comprehensive definition of “child pornography” should find a place in the Act. This is in spite of India having ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography! Indian law makers have not yet grasped the international dimensions of this crime i.e. possession and distribution of images of child abuse.
Going to the Police
Most children refuse to talk about the violence done to them. They may not understand what is happening to them exactly. Many realise only after several years what it is they have been bearing. And because the predators usually threaten their victims to keep silent, the children may feel ashamed, guilty, hesitant, or afraid of taking up the issue with family members or friends.
If you are the parent of a child who has been sexually abused or you suspect that your child or someone you know has been sexually abused, the situation of whether going to the police or not is quite tricky. The child might be too small to know what it means to go to the police, and if the predator is a family member – for example, your husband, brother or cousin – the situation becomes even more difficult. However, in the case that the predator is in fact a close family member/friend/neighbour, it becomes even more IMPORTANT to take action, because otherwise the abuse is very likely to continue. Or the perpetrator might become encouraged and search for more victims.
Before going to the police, it might be better to contact social services or a NGO dealing with the issue of CSA to ask for support and advice. It is also important to have the child taken to a counsellor, and to prepare her to what she has to say when a police complaint is filed.
Many children, even if they know that they can go to the police, decide not to do it because the fear of a) the police itself is quite high and b) they prefer not to talk about what has happened and instead try to forget it.
Should I go to the Police?
It is a big decision to go to the police station and to file a complaint, especially when the predator is a family member or close to the family. Also, the situation at the police station will be difficult for the child because she has to recount the abuse, and medical proof has to be provided by the victim.
Be prepared to have the police say that it will be easier not to complain. They might use several arguments to change your or the child’s mind. But it is their job to lodge a complaint and you must insist on it.
You can insist on a woman constable if available to interview the child. It is possible that embarrassing questions are asked. Irrelevant questions from the policeman like ‘did you mind being touched?’ or ‘what did you feel?’ etc should not be answered, and the child should be protected from being asked such questions. Help the child to prepare the statement beforehand. Details are necessary and this document will be the basis of the court case. Please read the statement, sign it and ask for a copy free of charge.
The police will send you and the child to a government hospital for a medical examination. This is extremely important as it will provide evidence of the abuse, in case it included rape or sodomoy. Victims and friends are therefore always advised not to wash or throw their clothes away. On the basis of the current law however, it is almost impossible to complain against CSA if penile or anal penetration did not take place.
The medical forensic examination is to examine the abused child and the predator. It will include:
- a physical examination for marks
- examination of blood, blood stains, semen, swabs, sputum and sweat, hair samples and finger nail clippings through scientific techniques including DNA profiling and such other tests
- Description of material taken of the accused for DNA profiling
The police will begin an investigation and then register a First Information Report. After that the proceedings will move to the arena of the Court.
Please think carefully before going to the police. The abuse will be brought into the public sphere. Not only will people know about it but the child has to deal with the exposure and has to prepare a case with the police.
You need to know some of the problems about going to the police. They are known not to be enthusiastic about booking child abuse cases. Women’s and children’s groups which have worked with violence victims for many years have noted some of the problem areas. This is not to say that the child should not register a complaint. Rather, by being for-warned, you and she are ready for it.
Two ways of approaching the police
The child can call the police to her house by dialling a police helpline like 100 or 103 [in Mumbai].
There are legal provisions for the police to intervene in cases of violence but refuse to do so saying that the victim has to complain. This means that if a neighbour complains of a child’s crying or a friend who suspects an abuse calls, the police will not intervene. You have to tell the child that she can call the police to her house when she is being abused, and insist that they come and stop the violence. By calling them, what would the child like them to do? Stop the attack? Argue with the abuser and threaten him to quit the abuse? Arrest him?
Police might ask the child to implicate other members of the family besides the abuser supposedly for collecting bribes to let them off. It is always good to stick to the facts of the case.
Alternatively, you can go to the police station with the child and report the abuse.
Unfortunately, you cannot rely on the police to help you. Many officers are corrupt or might say that they will not take such a ‘benign’ complaint. Some of them might be abusing children themselves. A lot of people find police officers not trustworthy.
Going to the police is a scary option but one that is necessary. You have to be clear about what you and the child want done and then need to remain persistent to follow it up with the police, which like all large institutes will give you the pillar to post treatment.
The following are some points that you can keep in mind.
- You can go to the police station in the area where the child or you is currently living
- Ask for support from a NGO if you want the child to be better protected when going to the police station
- Be clear in your mind about what you want the police to do:
- Carefully help the child to prepare a written note on the type of abuse, the last incident and names of witnesses
- Sometimes the police officer on duty will laugh or tell the child to ‘adjust’ and not file a complaint. Support the child to be brave and insist on filing it
- The child can choose to file a complaint under Section 375, 354 or 377 of the Indian Penal Code, depending on the circumstances.
- Show the Police Officer any physical injuries. Give the Police Officer a copy of the medical report, if the child has it. If you want you can also ask the Police Officer to arrange for a medical examination for the child.
- Give the police the names and addresses or witnesses to the assault, if any
Make sure the complaint is registered in writing and a copy is given to you and to the child free of cost.
An Initiative of Akshara, a women’s resource centre