Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is endemic, and devastates a victim for lifetime. According to Ministry of Women and Child Development estimate, 53% of children have faced Child Sexual Abuse in their lives. The highest percentage of abusers come from extended families, acquaintances and neighbours of the abused. Majority of the cases usually go unreported; the biggest roadblock to address CSA.
CSA can occur in a variety of settings, including home, school, or work (in places where child labor is common). Child marriage is one of the main forms of CSA and according to UNICEF survey child marriage represents perhaps the most prevalent form of CSA and exploitation of girls. The effects of CSA can include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, propensity to further victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems.
What abets this ugliest abuse is the way all of us contribute to the 'culture of silence' around the sexual abuse. As a parent, a friend, a responsible citizen, an official vested with an authority or simply a person with an adult mindset influenced with stereotypes that facilitates the perpetrator to go scot-free. Conviction rate in sexual abuse against children even in city like New Delhi is as low as 16 percent. It is more dangerous when our reaction to any such incident is based on our stereotypes ranging from misogyny, male chauvinism to other affiliations.
Late last year some of the friends of Vikas Sachdeva (accused of molesting Zaira Wasim in a plane) went on air and reported it was an unintended act. It does not really matter whether it was 'intended' or 'unintended' what matters is it was perceived an abuse by the victim and law will take due recourse to deliver justice and respect the courage demonstrated by Zaira. If every victim shows that courage, we as a society could be close to showing zero tolerance to this brutality. If the star-power in the case of Zaira promoted the protection of children why should we denigrate it?
Is it fair to express differential sympathy to child sexual abuse because abusers are different or the abused come from different background? Our fight becomes weak when we look at the crime from the lenses of abuser's identity and sugar-coat it to suit our personal biases.
Except Jammu and Kashmir, the sexual cases against children are tried under Protection of Children from Sexual Offices Act (POCSO), 2012. Like many other legislations, J&K does not even consider of enacting this law. We have not heard of any public statement from the Government on this. Government of India has been motivating and sometimes forcing states to enact such progressive legislations via a mechanism that makes states sub-ordinate to centre especially when it comes of centrally sponsored flagships. Where is the position of Government of India in this case? Peace, stability and normalcy cannot be just secured by executing 'surgical operations' or 'sadhbhawna programs', without downplaying their essence at times. There is a need for a holistic approach to normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.
Peace in Jammu and Kashmir is directly linked to the way state treats the children. The actual approach should be hitting real issues which would automatically secure the credibility of politicians especially among the children and youth who are often the drivers of situation in Kashmir. There are sufficient legal provisions in Mumbai or Delhi or for that matter in any part of the country to initiate action against the alleged abuser like Vikas Sachdev in the case of Zaira. Mumbai police slapped provisions of POCSO in addition to Section 354 of IPC. What if Zaira case would have happened in a flight from Delhi to Srinagar? The perpetrator would have found an easy acquittal. May be easier than approximately 84% of perpetrators who get acquitted in child sexual abuse cases against children even when tried under POCSO. J&K has not even that legal framework to handle Child Sexual Abuses.
It is high time that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Minister for Social Welfare Sajjad Gani Lone ensured a draft committee is constituted to present POCSO bill to the state legislature. The fact that state is struggling to set up other statutory structures and services under Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), should not be a reason to not to talk about other laws that need to be there for protection of children in Jammu and Kashmir.
While the law has sufficient provision to take care of the offender in a CSA, it is ironical that there is no such mechanism to repair the harm that is done to the victim. What is presumed in our criminal justice system is that once an offender is convicted which is a less as 15-16%, the victim becomes the recipient of justice; a presumption worth challenging. Why do we continue to be offender centric and encourage mechanisms based on weak presumption? Will a legal provision repair the mental agony caused to a victim. Where is the wisdom of our legislation in making the law equally offender and victim centric.
(Author is doctorate in Sociology from KU, and is a member of J&K Juvenile Justice Board)