The Issue

Globally violence against children affects children of all nations. At least three out of four of the world’s children – 1.7 billion – have experienced inter-personal violence, cruelty or abuse in their daily lives in a previous year, regardless of whether they lived in rich countries or poor (Ending Violence In Childhood Global Report 2017). Based on approximate estimate, 20 percent of girls and 5 to 10 percent of boys are victims of sexual abuse (Summary Report ISPCAN 2012)

Violence violates the dignity and rights of children, and robs them of the joys of childhood. Childhood violence also disrupts the formation of capabilities, and imposes huge financial and human costs on individuals and societies. The annual costs of physical, sexual and psychological violence against children, using sensitivity analysis, in the highest scenario, can go up to 8 per cent, or about US$7 trillion. (Ending Violence in Childhood: Global Report 2017)

Violence in Childhood is a Global phenomenon. In India, Child Sexual Abuse is rampant and has lifelong consequences. Yet, the issue goes unnoticed and silenced, and is poorly addressed by the government and non-profit sector

CSA in the Indian Context

The issue of Child Sexual Abuse is widespread across India, impacting children of all ages, socio-economic classes and genders.  Half of the country’s children face some form of sexual abuse, with 21% having faced severe sexual abuse. Boys account for around 53% and girls for 47% of all children reporting abuse. (Child Abuse Report, Women and Child Development India, 2007).

Despite its high prevalence, violence against children is often hidden, unseen or under-reported. It is not widely acknowledged or understood. In a country where sexuality is a taboo, the vocabulary to communicate around sexuality and sexual abuse is non-existent. Caregivers often do not have the knowledge or comfort to support children either by being watchful or by talking to them and hand-holding them in the case of abuse. In such a context, the onus is on the education system to provide children with the essential life skills to identify unsafe touches and situations and seek help. However, the education system makes little effort to address it. There is also limited acceptance that CSA can affect the mental health of the child and can continue to affect the person’s life during adulthood if not healed. This restricts initialization and adherence to therapy and counselling. What compounds the problem is that only a few NGOs are actively working in this space in a focused manner. There is also negligible country-specific research, expertise or resources available to guide practice.

The impact of Child Sexual Abuse can be diverse and numerous. Sexual abuse can impact the life of children at the physiological, psychological, and social levels and on sexual behavioral patterns.

Physical impact can include pregnancy, tears to vaginal or anal area, sexually transmitted diseases, repeated urinary infection and psychosomatic illness.

Psychological impact can include unusual or unexplained fear of people or places, nightmares, eating and sleeping disturbances, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, clinging behavior, indifference, frequent daydreaming, dissociation, lack of trust in self and others, regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking, soiling and bedwetting. The most profound impact can include suicide.

Social impact can include sudden withdrawal, overly pleasing behavior, increased hostility, aggression and drastic change in academic performance.

Sexual abuse in childhood can cause drastic and visible change in sexual conduct and mannerisms. Some of these may include over dressing, under dressing, sexual anxiety, and repetitive sexual behavior such as excessive masturbation, continuous sexual play, use of sexually abusive language or sexual aggression towards others. It is also possible that the trauma of Child Sexual Abuse may create sexual identity anxiety or confusion.

It is difficult to separate the short-term impact from the long-term impact as the former may often be the commencement of a long-term problem. Some of the long term impacts can be low self-esteem, guilt, shame, depression, isolation, antisocial behavior (drugs, alcohol), aversion to intimate relationships,  sexually promiscuous behavior,  aversion to sex, ambiguous sense of boundaries making them vulnerable to future abuse and re-victimization and delinquency including demonstrating sexually offending behaviors and re-enacting their own abuse.

However, when children who experience sexual abuse are believed and supported by their guardians/trusted adults/loved ones, they could recover very quickly. Indeed, some children and adult victims, especially those with a strong emotional support system before the abuse, might not show any impact of Child Sexual Abuse.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a form of child abuse. Child Sexual Abuse happens when a person uses a child for his/her sexual gratification. Child Sexual Abuse is mostly committed by someone who is in a position of power and/or authority, and sometimes, even in a position of trust. The very nature of abuse implies a relationship, and thus it is much easier for such a person to take advantage of the child’s helplessness and vulnerability. CSA may be physical, visual or verbal in nature. Child Sexual Abuse is a violation of the child’s body as well as of the child’s trust and is against the law. Child Sexual Abuse can be categorized as contact and non-contact abuse, which encompass the following :

Contact Abuse

  • Penetration of anus, vagina, oral sex
  • Fondling child’s private body parts
  • Making the child fondle the abuser’s private parts. Also using emotional blackmail such as ‘you would do this if you loved me’ or comparing previous encounters to make someone feel obliged to do something sexual.
  • Forcible kissing
  • Sexual touching of any part of the body

Non-Contact Abuse

  • Making the child exhibit private body parts
  • Exhibiting private body parts to the child
  • Photographing a child in the nude
  • Making the child view pornographic materials
  • Online abuse including making, viewing or distributing child abuse images
  • Encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts
  • Using sexually explicit talk and sexually abusive language with the child

To know more, read or download our FAQs on Understanding Child Sexual Abuse here.

Laws In India

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children through legal provisions. POCSO received the President’s assent on 19 June 2012 and was notified in the Gazette of India the next day.

The objectives of the POCSO Act are:

  • To protect children from the offences of
    • Sexual assault;
    • Sexual harassment and Pornography
  • To establish Special Courts for speedy trial of such offences.

The Salient features of the Act are that it:

  • Defines the child as anyone below the age of 18
  • Is gender neutral law, wherein the law takes cognizance of sexual crimes committed against both girls and boys under the age of 18 years.
  • Addresses a wide range of sexual offences which include anything from complete and partial penetration, non-penetrative sexual assault, stalking of a child, showing children pornography, using the child for pornography and exhibitionism. The law protects children from both contact and non-contact sexual abuse.
  • Places the burden of proof on the accused and ensures punishment for all perpetrators irrespective of age and gender
  • Does not recognize consensual sexual acts among children or between a child and an adult.
  • Prosecutes any person (including a child) for engaging in a sexual act with a child irrespective of whether the latter consented to it.
  • Provides for more severe punishment, when the sexual offence is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority
  • Introduces child friendly measures and defines the role of the Police as a child protector
  • Pronounces the importance of Mandatory Reporting of sexual offences

Above all, the Act stipulates that a case of Child Sexual Abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported.

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The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015 was passed by the Lok Sabha on 7 May 2015 and received Presidential assent on 31 December 2015. It replaced the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.  It provides strengthened provisions for both children in need of care and protection and children in conflict with the law. Some of the key provisions include :

  • Change in nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’ across the Act to remove the negative connotation associated with the word ‘juvenile’.
  • Clarity in powers, function and responsibilities of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
  • A separate new chapter has been added on Adoption to streamline the adoption of orphans, abandoned and surrendered children; and the existing Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) has been given the status of a statutory body.
  • Inclusion of new offences committed against children and mandatory registration of Child Care Institutions.
  • Under Section 15, special provisions have been made to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences in the age group of 16-18 years. The Juvenile Justice Board is given the option to transfer cases of heinous offences by such children to a Children’s Court (Court of Session) after conducting a preliminary assessment.

Several new offences committed against children, which are not adequately covered under any other law, are included in the Act. These include sale and procurement of children for any purpose, including illegal adoption; corporal punishment in child care institutions; use of a child by militant groups; offences against disabled children; and kidnapping and abduction of children.

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