Abuse as we know, can be of several kinds, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – physical, mental, emotional, psychological or in the form of neglect or exploitation. It brings about circumstances causing harm to a child’s health, welfare, growth, development and safety. Child abuse, in its various forms can be found everywhere in India – in cities and rural homes, in the homes of the rich and the poor, and in the streets and schools as well.
Children constitute 39% of the India’s population (Census 2011) and 33 million children in the age group of 5-18 years were in labour force( census 2011). Also, a 2007 study on child abuse by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) had revealed that two out of every three children are physically abused; 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; nearly 50% of the sample of over 12,000 children were sexually abused at their schools; out of the 69% of physically abused children in 13 sample states, 54.68% were boys. This data gives a panoramic picture of the condition of children in India vis-à-vis the range of issues plaguing the holistic growth and development of children starting from sexual abuse of both male and female children, physical abuse, unsafe schools and so forth.
As per NCRB analysis, 40 % of reported crimes against children are sexual offences and an astounding 1.5 lakh (POCSO) Protection of Children from Sexual Offences cases are pending in 670 courts as on 2019.Only 3 % in POCSO cases have received compensation in 2015, 4 % in 2016, 5% in 2017.Pendency of POCSO cases owes its allegiance with a slew of reasons. Firstly, as per Law Ministry 2016 data India has 19 judges for every 10 lakh people, this lack of judges further adds to the piling up of cases. Moreover, rate of conviction in POCSO cases is well below 20 %. Secondly, fast track courts also do not adequately meet the requirement since fast track courts are also under crisis. According to the Law Ministry, at the end of March 2019, there were 581 FTCs (fast track courts) operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases. It may be deduced that increasing fast track courts ultimately only worsens the workload of judges and quality of justice when the number of judges is not increased proportionately.
Additionally, the NCRB data of missing children compiled in 2016 stands around 1,11,569 which is another indicator of plausible child abuse in variant forms. Coming to 2019, 24000 plus cases of child rape and abuse have already been registered since January 2019 till July 2019 alone. Besides rape, child trafficking, child pornography, murders after abuse are also other traumatizing cases related to children
It is known that the social net of children is limited to family, friends, school, trainers and medical practitioners mostly. Hence, cases of abuse have mostly been found to relate with either family or school. Recently in India, a few cases have also emerged that question the safety of children at schools as well. Further, a child line 2011 national study on Child Protection Mechanism found that only 4% schools provide filtered water to children,19 % schools did not provide any water facility at all,86 % of schools had first aid box available, only 12 % of respondents (principals) had undergone any training on child rights and child protection,28 % schools reported drop-out of students due to child labour and 21 % due to child marriage. Further, it added that with regard to display of awareness materials on child protection issues, only 5 % had on child abuse and surprisingly only 1 % schools had sexual harassment policy in place. These findings are eye openers about awareness in society concerning child protection and healthy development as well as about the apathy of management of schools.
Besides these, there are challenges like non-reporting of crimes, lengthy legal trails, media hype and fear, child trauma. Since most abusers are known people, it adds to fear and shame of reporting. Again, although POCSO Act limits trial period to 1 year but in reality it takes longer as such the on ground realities and assurances in Acts vary highly which does not just cause temporary shying away from processes but also permanent distrust in judicial processes.
The legislative protections and other support available for child victims are Schemes to address child abuse are 24hour child helpline -1098, Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) renamed CPS for children in need of care and protection. The commissions for the protection of child Rights Act,2005 provides for National and state commissions for protection of Child rights in energy state and UT.A web based child adoption Resource information and guidance System (CARINGS) is also available to make process of adoption more transparent such that adoption related trafficking may be monitored.
In addition, Ujjawala scheme for rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims of trafficking is in place. National plan of action for children, adopted in 2013 has been revised in 2016.Child labour ( Prohibition and Regulation Act), 1986,PENCIL (Platform for effective enforcement for No Child Labour) – a child tracking system which functions to monitor and track the rehabilitation of rescued children so that they don’t fall in the vicious cycle of child labour also support the drive to secure children. It may be highlighted that, legislations certainly go a long way in securing legal justice but this fails when a general awareness about assured guarantee of protection or justice is negligible. Consequently, when awareness is high it is bound to result in more reporting of crimes which is necessarily the first step towards ensuring justice.
In the above context, there may be few suggestions which may impact the scenario in a phased manner like adding more female judges to create motherly figures so that children can connect and feel safer during legal proceedings. Also, an appropriate example may be cited here- women patrolling teams have been introduced in Hyderabad deviating from the conventional methods of male patrolling teams. This can act as a multi- pronged approach that can facilitate in creating a healthier environment for children to express their issues if found in any compromising situation. Such initiatives also reflect that the society is moving towards gender equality in its truest sense by adopting unconventional job assignments for women. On the awareness front, adults should be made aware to recognize and report child abuse and along with that child protection policy must be made mandatory for all schools. For penetrative awareness, the school education boards of states and centre should be brought under the umbrella of MWCD to introduce awareness through the school education system to reach the masses far and wide. Collectively, with multi-dimensional approaches, the menace of child abuse may be eradicated to uphold the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, “Evil unchecked grows, evil tolerated poisons the whole system.”