Breaking the silence

Let’s not keep quiet about crimes perpetrated against the most vulnerable section of our society

CHILD ABUSE

KALPANA TIKKU

This may sound weird, but the first major decision I took after my daughter was born was to stop hiring male domestic help. Among the various stuff I had been reading, what was most scary and spine chilling for me, were the stories on sexual offences against children. The very thought of it sent shivers down my spine and still does. I still turn sleepless whenever the thought crosses my mind. I had to drill it inside my daughter never to take help from a male attendant with her clothes when she went to toilet in school, never to let anyone pick her up in their lap, never to get inside anyone’s car for a lift home. These may sound unimportant and insignificant suggestions, but prevention has always been far better than cure.  Closing one’s eyes towards ugly and harsh facts, maintaining silence over it, feeling hesitant to talk about this topic in a conservative society is not the solution. It is, in fact, akin to encouraging the culprit and being insensitive towards the most vulnerable section of our society. The mere thought of your child being sexually abused is horrifying enough to shake up your entire being.
Sexual violence is something which most women at some stage in life may have suffered. We all are aware of it but it took us a long time to finally start talking about it.  Recently, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, came into force in India. For the first time, a special law has been passed to address the issue of sexual offences against children. The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children under the age of 18 years from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. These offences have been clearly defined for the first time in law. The Act provides for stringent punishments, which have been graded as per the gravity of the offence. The punishments range from simple to rigorous imprisonment of varying periods. There is also provision for fine, which is to be decided by the Court. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) have been made the designated authority to monitor the implementation of the Act. The rules rely on the structures established under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, to make arrangements for the care and protection of the child and to ensure that the person is not re-victimised in the course of investigation and trial.
Unfortunately and sadly the Juvenile Justice Act is itself not implemented in J&K. Hence, if we want to want to prevent such ghastly and heinous crimes, we cannot afford to wait for the government to come forward and conduct awareness programmes, but instead take it upon us to familiarize ourselves with ways and means to prevent these crimes. The main reason child abuse is alive to this day is because we fail to listen and pay attention to children when they complain.
However uncomfortable it might seem, but parents need to include this as a part of parenting to start teaching children about inappropriate behavior from others. It is vital to build protective antennae in order to keep children safe from child molesters. Statistics reveal that sexual offenders against children have usually had many victims and a history of re-offending, if given an opportunity. It is appalling to note than 90 percent of sex offenders are never sentenced. Children are pressured with threat or shame not to reveal names and incidents, with the result that the perpetrators are free to re-offend, and it's most likely that they will. Children often do not tell for a variety of reasons including the offender's threats to hurt or kill someone the victim loves, as well as shame, embarrassment, fear of being held responsible or being punished and most importantly, the fear of being disbelieved.
Surprisingly, it has been often seen, in such cases of offences against children that the victim and the culprit have been closely related, most times the most unsuspecting people. They have rarely been strangers. If your child ever displays discomfort with a certain relative or cousin or family friend, take it as a warning signal never to leave your child alone in his presence. Make sure you know your child’s whereabouts at all times.  Children at times do not know how to articulate their discomfort or how to explain it. If your child refuses to go for tuition to a certain male teacher, never ever force her to.  Try to sensitize your child to distinguish between a good touch and a bad touch. If she complains against a relative, pay attention. Encourage her to speak her heart and build confidence in her that she can rely on you and that you have full faith in her words.  A child’s confidence is enhanced if she or he feels believed, supported and protected. Sexual assaulted children may not fight back for a variety of reasons including fear and confusion. Sexual offenders in these cases must be reported without any delay and the police needs to treat such reports as extremely serious and conduct investigations immediately.
We need to understand that sexual offences are not only about sexual penetration, it includes indecent activity, touching a child’s private parts to derive pleasure, unlawful sexual conduct or suggestive talks. One need not wait for the last stage to occur before declaring the act an offence. The motive is to identify and stop something even while it is in its natal stage. Remember child molesters wear a shield of trust. They are someone known to you and the child. It is important to talk about it. The only thing that would be more outrageous than the crime itself is to keep quiet about the most vicious of crimes perpetrated against the most vulnerable section of society. Child molestation is almost equivalent to Capital crime and the offenders need to be punished as severely.
 “Children's bodies aren't like automobiles with the assailant's fingerprints lingering on the wheel. The world of sexual abuse is quintessentially secret. It is the perfect crime.” Too many children have suffered in silence for years. We need to break the silence and bring together parents, professionals, concerned citizens, elected leaders and policymakers to engage them in this movement.
(Kalpana Tikku is the Managing Trustee of ARNIMAAL, a voluntary Organization working in the valley. Feedback at kalpana.w@hotmail.com)

Lastupdate on : Thu, 17 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 17 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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