According to a report in 2017 by National Crime Records Bureau, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India. It is important that both parents and schools are aware of their responsibilities to avoid such incidents, observes Dr Swati Popat Vats, President, Podar Education Network, for Elets News Network (ENN).
Child sexual abuse exploits and degrades children and can cause serious damage to cognitive, social, and emotional development of a child. As a society, we have a collective responsibility to prevent child sexual abuse. To accomplish this, we must initiate and support services, policies and programmes that enhance children’s development, health and safety.
What is child sexual abuse?
- The standing committee on sexually abused children (Bajpai, 2003) has defined Child Sexual Abuse as ‘Any child below the age of consent may be deemed to have been sexually abused when a sexually mature person has by design or by neglect of their usual societal or specific responsibility in relation to the child engaged or permitted engagement of that child in any activity of a sexual nature which is intended to lead to the sexual gratification of the sexually mature person.
- This definition pertains whether or not it involves genital or physical contact, whether or not initiated by the child and whether or not there is a discernible harmful outcome in the short run.
- The NSW Child Protection Council definition states, ‘child sexual assault occurs when an adult or someone bigger than a child uses his power or authority over the child and takes advantage of the child’s trust and respect to involve the child in sexual activity.
Some myths about child sexual abuse
- Only strangers abuse kids sexually–Fact– Danger from strangers is only a small part of the problem. Research evidence world over indicates that in a majority of cases, (up to 85%) the child’s relatives, family, friends, or someone known and trusted by the child is involved.
- Only men sexually abuse children–Fact– An overwhelming majority of those who sexually abuse children is men although women are the ones who spend most time with children. Only a small minority of women report to have abused children.
- Child sexual abuse happens only in poor or problem families–Fact-Child sexual abuse cuts across classes, caste, religious and educational barriers and occurs irrespective of what the background of the abuser and the child is.
- When children say they have been abused, it is often a figment of their imagination or fantasy–Fact-Most times, children are unable to disclose or talk about abuse. In rare instances, when they do talk, it is not their imagination or fantasy but very real; children need to be believed and supported if they talk about any sexual touching or if they express any reservations about interacting with particular adults.
- We can tell if a child is sexually abused–Fact-Children are experts at hiding their pain. It is difficult to say from external appearance if the child is sexually abused.
- Boys cannot be abused–Fact– Although more girls are reported to be sexually abused, (one in every four) research indicates one in every seven boys world over are abused.
Some children keep quiet about being abused because the offender threatens them. This is why parents should not threaten children. When you threaten children it makes them soft targets of all kinds of threats. And then makes them susceptible to danger.
An important law POCSO – Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012:
- The Act defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.
- This is the first time that an Act has listed aspects of touch as well as non-touch behaviour (e.g. photographing a child in a obscene manner) under the ambit of sexual offences.
- The Act incorporates child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences
- The attempt to commit an offence under the Act has also been made liable for punishment for up to half the punishment prescribed for the commission of the offence
- The Act also provides for punishment for abetment of the offence, which is the same as for the commission of the offence. This would cover trafficking of children for sexual purposes.
- The media has been barred from disclosing the identity of the child without the permission of the Special Court.
Key steps to safeguard child:
- Conduct regular good touch bad touch sessions with children
- Conduct trainings of all staff and sensitize them on what body parts can never be touched by males or staff not related to toilet duties
- Conduct regular checks of the cctv footage
- Ensure that they have at least 30 days of CCTV footage for retrieval
- Do not leave children alone with any male staff member
- Get police verification done of all support staff and in case of doubt get it done for teaching staff too
- Make all teaching and non teaching staff sign a prevention of child abuse policy which states that they will not abuse a child or mishandle physically or emotionally. In case of a complaint then strict actions will taken against them
- Read the POCSO act because child sexual abuse is not just about ‘penetration’ or ‘rape’. It starts with tickling, fondling, showing obscene material etc. and then moves to other levels of abuse. All staff should be aware of the POCSO act.
Understand the importance of reporting child abuse cases – as per the POCSO act:
- Any person, who fails to report the commission of an offence under sub-section (i) of section 19 or section 20 or who fails to record such offence under sub-section 2) of section 19 shall be punished with imprisonment of either description which may extend to six month or with fine or with both.
- Any person, being in-charge of any company or an institution (by whatever name called) who fails to report the commission of an offence under sub-section (1) of section 19 in respect of a subordinate his control, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with fine.
Important for parents and schools to understand why are young kids easy targets of child sexual abuse
- Kids are easy target of sexual abuse because…
- Young children thrive on touch, touch is one of their most important senses in the early years and naturally they show and accept love using this sense the most
- Early experiences at touching and being touched are incredibly important—not only for molding later tactile sensitivity, motor skills, and understanding of the physical world but also for her very health and emotional wellbeing. If your child associates touch with a traumatic experience then it will impact overall development. So it is important to keep them away from all kinds of bad touch
- Kids thrive on touch and seek it from everyone, this makes them easy targets
- They do not understand what bad touch is unless explained to recognize it
- They lack the communication or vocabulary to share with you about what they experienced
- Many parents think kids are imagining this behavior and thus tend to ignore the child’s attempts to talk about it
- The abuser is usually someone you trust and he is confident that you will not suspect him and it will be his word against that of a small child
- Abusers know that most parents are afraid of the social stigma and will thus not bring any action against the abuser and he can move on to the next child
Tips for parents in keeping their child safe from child sexual abuse:
- Look for safe schools, daycares and crèches rather than ‘sought after ones’, or ‘cheap ones’.
- Check the following before enrolling your child.
- Do they have a prevention of child sexual abuse policy?
- Do they make staff sign a zero tolerance policy?
- Are all the support staff police verified? Check the documents.
- Do they have CCTV coverage of important areas and those areas that have nooks and crannies?
- Do they check the CCTV footage every week?
- Do they store CCTV footage for 30 days?
- Are they aware of the POCSO act?
- Conduct regular good touch bad touch sessions with your child, don’t leave it only to the school to conduct.
- Regularly speak to your child and listen for instances of any adult playing with your child alone.
- Always respect your child and never say – you are lying.
- It is your right to file an FIR in the police station.
- Police should come to your house in plain clothes to interview your child. A woman officer has to be sent.
- Child sexual abuse is on the rise, especially in India. Apart from ensuring that we know where children are all the time and with who they are all the time, parents should also ensure that ‘people’ who look after their children respect children. Increase in the easy availability and accessibility of porn on mobile phones etc. has led to young children being easy targets for ‘fulfillment’.
Some dos and don’ts for parents
- In most cases of sexual abuse the family knows the abusers. So ensure that you really ‘know’ people before trusting your child in their care.
- Working parents especially find it difficult to keep children in a safe environment, so make the rules clear to the daycare or person who takes care and to your child.
- Some children keep quiet about being abused because the offender threatens them. This is why parents should not threaten children. When you threaten children, it makes them soft targets of all kinds of threats. And then makes them susceptible to danger.
- Read the POCSO Act because child sexual abuse is not just about ‘penetration’ or ‘rape’. It starts with tickling, fondling, showing obscene material etc. and then moves to other levels of abuse