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To curb child sexual abuse in India, POCSO Act needs wide publicity; personal safety education among children, parents vital

Ahmedabad: Child sexual abuse is a pandemic in India, and massive steps need to be taken to stop it so children, the future of our country, are not destroyed. The government enacted the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, to curb this menace wherein over half the children of India, or 53 percent, have faced one or the other form of sexual abuse, according to a large-scale government study conducted in 2007.

However, when we see that the rate of conviction in cases under the POCSO Act is less than 20 percent and that over 90 percent of these cases are pending in court, it is clear that the law is not proving to be a deterrent. Also, in 52 percent of the cases, the child molesters and rapists are uncles and older cousins. Cases also go unreported due to the silence of children who are victims of child sexual abuse — as much as 72 percent children don’t tell anyone about the abuse they have been through, which means they are abused over a long period of time.

 To curb child sexual abuse in India, POCSO Act needs wide publicity; personal safety education among children, parents vital

Parents protest against child sexual abuse in Kolkata. PTI

In such a scenario, prevention rather than cure should be the way to go. We, in India, need to ensure that our children live a life of dignity free from sexual abuse, and the best way is to ensure that all children are educated about personal safety. Also, there needs to be enough public awareness campaigns to sensitive parents, teachers, children, guardians and even potential child abusers to nip the evil in the bud and put an end to the crime before it has the chance of being perpetrated.

Studies have shown that educating children about personal safety and creating awareness about the dangers of sexual abuse of children can be an effective tool in curbing the problem.

With this in mind, Sabfree Foundation, an NGO that works to provide an ecosystem for survivors of child sexual abuse in Gujarat, submitted a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High Court on 2 May, calling for the state government to screen short films on child sexual abuse and related issues in cinema halls before a movie to create public awareness. The PIL also calls for the government to create awareness through television channels, radio and print media to ensure children's safety and that there is no more silence over child sexual abuse.

This is the first such PIL urging the government to create awareness about child sexual abuse. It emphasises the need to have education on personal safety be made compulsory in schools and colleges so that children are trained to protect themselves against sexual abuse and are able to seek help from the right people in case they are being abused or facing attempts.

The high court took cognisance of the petition and issued notices to all six respondents from the Central and state governments. These include the Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, Ministry of Home Affairs, Gujarat State Department of Women and Child Protection, Gujarat State Education Department and Gujarat State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

It needs to be pointed out that Section 43 of the POCSO Act stipulates that the Central and state governments take all measures to ensure that all provisions of the Act are widely publicised through the media at regular intervals to make the general public, children as well as parents and guardians aware of the provisions of the law. The Act also states that concerned persons, including police officers, are imparted periodic training on matter related to the implementation of the provisions of the Act.

It is vital to ensure that no child is ever sexually abused as it has lasting effects. These include poor academic performance, relationship problems, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, obesity, marital discord, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, poor mental and physical health, poor leadership qualities, low level of achievements in adult life and poor parental relationships.

A child who has been sexually abused needs sustained counseling to be able to be free of the effects of child sexual abuse. However, in India, there is a severe shortage of trained counselors to help tackle the massive numbers of child victims. It costs a lot of money to avail of counseling services, and such counseling also needs to be available constantly. Availability and costs are major hindrances to counseling for survivors and also areas that are severely neglected in India. The law stipulates that survivors of child sexual abuse should be provided counseling, but the Act doesn’t specify how much and for how long, which is why in most cases, counseling is not is adequately provided.

Shital Pradeep from Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Gujarat, said, “Victims of child sexual abuse who live in shelter homes are provided counseling, but others don't get counseling regularly or adequately.”

Given how traumatic and lasting the effects of sexual abuse are and considering the damage it does to a child’s life, the best way to curb child sexual abuse would be if everyone takes up the responsibility to put an end to it. The onus to stop child sexual abuse cannot be on the children. Adults have to ensure that children are protected — be it is parents, teachers, community leaders or people in the neighbourhood, school authorities and other care givers. It will take every person to stop this disease in the country.

Furthermore, given the scale of the problem and the number of children who face sexual abuse, it will be a massive exercise to reach out to all quarters and create awareness, which can only be achieved through mass communication. The silence surrounding child sexual abuse has to be broken, and each and every person has to be educated not only about the lasting effects of child sexual abuse but also about the law and how stringent it is as far as sexual abuse of children is concerned.

Children are not voters, which is why their needs are often neglected. But when every second child is being abused, it becomes the collective responsibility of all citizens of India to protect them and ensure that they have a childhood free of any abuse.

The author is a survivor of child sexual abuse. She is the director of Sabfree Foundation and a strong voice against child sexual abuse

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Updated Date: May 06, 2019 11:54:15 IST