One of the biggest social stigmas attached to society is that of child abuse. A child can be abused physically, sexually, or mentally. It can be in the form of injury, neglect or negligent treatment, blaming, forced sexual stimulation and activity, incest exploitation, and sexual abuse. Child abuse can take place in homes, schools, orphanages, residential care facilities, on the streets, in the workplace, in prisons, and in places of detention. Violence in any form has a very deep impact on the overall development of the child. Child abuse results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development, and dignity.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau, 109 children in India face some form of child sexual abuse every day. The same records show a sharp rise in crimes against children on a year-on-year basis. Unlike most other crimes, heinous crimes against children are often underreported. This is major because even if the child confides in someone, the facts are often covered under the fear of family reputation and social stigma. Child abuse is a violation of the basic human rights of a child.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as the involvement of a child in sexual activity that they do not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the children are not prepared for developmentally, or that violates the law of the land. The definition of CSA includes sexual activities like fondling, asking a child to touch or be touched sexually, intercourse, involving a child in prostitution or pornography, or child luring on cyberspace.
But the most devastating types of violence are often hidden from public view. Perpetrators go to great lengths to conceal their acts, leaving children – especially those who lack the capacity to report or even understand their experience – vulnerable to further exposure.
Violence affects all children. But children living with disabilities or HIV and AIDS, those suffering extreme poverty, girls and boys in institutional care, and children separated from their families or on the move – as migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers – face the greatest risk. Sexual orientation, gender identity, and belonging to a marginalized social or ethnic group also heighten a child’s chance of suffering violence.
Most violence against children involves at least one of six main types of interpersonal violence that tend to occur at different stages in a child’s development.
- Maltreatment (including violent punishment) involves physical, sexual, and psychological/emotional violence; and neglect of infants, children, and adolescents by parents, caregivers, and other authority figures, most often in the home but also in settings such as schools and orphanages.
- Bullying (including cyber-bullying) is unwanted aggressive behavior by another child or group of children who are neither siblings nor in a romantic relationship with the victim. It involves repeated physical, psychological, or social harm, and often takes place in schools and other settings where children gather, and online.
- Youth violence is concentrated among children and young adults aged 10–29 years, occurs most often in community settings between acquaintances and strangers, includes bullying and physical assault with or without weapons (such as guns and knives), and may involve gang violence.
- Intimate partner violence (or domestic violence) involves physical, sexual, and emotional violence by an intimate partner or ex-partner. Although males can also be victims, intimate partner violence disproportionately affects females. It commonly occurs against girls in child marriages and early/forced marriages. Among romantically involved but unmarried adolescents it is sometimes called “dating violence”.
- Sexual violence includes non-consensual completed or attempted sexual contact and acts of a sexual nature not involving contact (such as voyeurism or sexual harassment); acts of sexual trafficking committed against someone who is unable to consent or refuse; and online exploitation.
- Emotional or psychological violence includes restricting a child’s movements, denigration, ridicule, threats and intimidation, discrimination, rejection and other non-physical forms of hostile treatment.
When directed against girls or boys because of their biological sex or gender identity, any of these types of violence can also constitute gender-based violence.
- Some 15 million adolescent girls aged 15–19 have experienced forced sex in their lifetime.
- About 10% of the world’s children are not legally protected from corporal punishment.
- Over 1 in 3 students aged 13–15 experience bullying worldwide.
- Approximately 1 in 4 children under the age of 5 – some 176 million – live with a mother who is a victim of intimate partner violence.
- Roughly 3 in 4 children between the ages of 2 and 4 – around 300 million – are regularly subjected to violent discipline by their caregivers.
Violence against children is a multifaceted problem with causes at the individual, close relationship, community, and societal levels. Important risk factors are:
- biological and personal aspects such as sex and age
- lower levels of education
- low income
- having a disability or mental health problems
- identifying as or being identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
- harmful use of alcohol and drugs
- a history of exposure to violence.
- lack of emotional bonding between children and parents or caregivers
- poor parenting practices
- family dysfunction and separation
- being associated with delinquent peers
- witnessing violence between parents or caregivers
- early or forced marriage.
- high population density
- low social cohesion and transient populations
- easy access to alcohol and firearms
- high concentrations of gangs and illicit drug dealing.
- social and gender norms that create a climate in which violence is normalized
- health, economic, educational, and social policies that maintain economic, gender, and social inequalities
- absent or inadequate social protection
- post-conflict situations or natural disaster
- settings with weak governance and poor law enforcement.
Violence against children can be prevented. Preventing and responding to violence against children requires that efforts systematically address risk and protective factors at all four interrelated levels of risk (individual, relationship, community, society).
Under the leadership of WHO, a group of 10 international agencies has developed and endorsed an evidence-based technical package called INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children.
- INSPIRE: Seven strategies for ending violence against children
The seven strategies are:
- Implementation and enforcement of laws (for example, banning violent discipline and restricting access to alcohol and firearms);
- Norms and values change (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse of girls or aggressive behavior among boys);
- Safe environments (such as identifying neighborhood “hot spots” for violence and then addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions);
- Parental and caregiver support (for example, providing parent training to young, first-time parents);
- Income and economic strengthening (such as microfinance and gender equity training);
- Response services provision (for example, ensuring that children who are exposed to violence can access effective emergency care and receive appropriate psychosocial support); and
- Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and social skills training).
- A movement headed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development led to the enactment of new legislation called the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) to tackle the menace of Child Sexual Abuse cases in India.
- The Act was enacted with the aim of criminalization a range of criminal acts such as rape of a child, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography involving a minor (less than 18 years of age). The act directs the setting up of Special Courts to ensure speedy trials in cases of Child Sexual Abuse. Without any question, the passing of POCSO was a major step forward in securing the rights of children and ensuring they have a safe childhood. The aim and spirit of the law are to protect children from sexual abuse.
- The POCSO Act, 2012 calls for stringent punishments, as per the gravity of the offense ranging from simple to rigorous imprisonment of varying kinds and periods. There are also provisions for a fine, which is decided by the Court based on the facts of each case. An offense is considered to be an aggravated offense when committed by a person in a position of trust and authority of minor or such members of society such as security officers, police officers, public servants, etc.
- The act does not use the term rape for sexual offenses and also does not restrict sex to just penetration. Instead, the act broadens the offense termed penetrative sexual assault to include oral sex, as well as, the insertion of object of any kind into the anus, mouth, or vagina, in addition to penile sex. Before the POCSO Act, numerous accused in such cases were let go scot-free or charged under less severe sections under the IPC such as outraging the modesty of a woman because acts like digital penetration were not considered an offense under the IPC. The addition of penetrative assault under the POCSO, 2012 now has increased the layer of protection for children in India and made convictions for various kinds of penetrations possible.
- In addition, The POCSO Act, 2012 criminalizes a range of acts as being sexual assaults, all of which fall short of the act of penetration. Further, the offenses of aggravated penetrative and non-penetrative sexual assault have been made much more stringent with stronger penalties, especially when committed by a specified range of perpetrators, including family and known people and people who are on public duties, such as policemen and government officers. Some examples of offenses under it include rape, gang rape, grievous bodily harm, threatening with firearms or substances of corrosive nature, assault of a child under 12 years of age, or one who is physically or mentally disabled, impregnating a minor, or assaulting a pregnant child knowingly, or infecting the child with HIV. The definition of assault under the POCSO Act, thus, is of a comprehensive nature, and a range of possible scenarios is covered under it. The need for these provisions is to ensure various crimes against children can be covered under it as often children are some of the most vulnerable sections of the population in India.
- The POCSO Act, 2012 is a breath of fresh air in many aspects, as not only does it have provisions for after a crime is committed but also includes under it, the definition of sexual harassment, repeated or constantly stalking, watching, or contacting a child either directly, through electronic media or through other means thus, including incidents of child harassment via sexting or cyberspace.
- The introduction of a Special Court for crimes against children, as provided under the Act, plays an important role in how the law and the evidence may be administered and interpreted. The POCSO Act allows for Special Courts where trial proceedings may be conducted in a more sensitive manner with the minor who has been the victim. It allows for the testimony to be given either privately via video-link, behind screens, or in front of a camera which is intended not only to ensure no possible repeat of the trauma but also to protect the identity of the child. It introduces modern child-friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation, and trial of offenses in lieu of international guidelines.
- One of the principles of the POCSO Act is to recognize that even if there is an intent to commit an offense of abuse and for whatever reason it was unsuccessful, the perpetrator needs to be penalized. The mere attempt to commit an offense has been made liable for punishment under the POCSO act with half of the prescribed punishment for the commission of the offense. It also has provisions for punishment for abetment of the offense, which is the same as for the commission of the offense. This includes the trafficking of children for prostitution.
- The POCSO Act also has strong provisions to prevent misuse of the law and punishment has been provided for making false complaints or submitting incorrect information with malicious intent to harm someone’s reputation.
- Under the POCSO Act, 2012 the media has been barred from disclosing the identity of children who have been sexually abused without the permission of the Special Court. The punishment for breaching this provision is imprisonment of 6 months to 1 year.
- To ensure a speedy trial, the POCSO Act states that the evidence of the child is to be recorded within a period of 30 days after the commission of the crime. Also, the Special Court is required to complete the trial within a period of 1 year, if possible.
- Other provisions include relief and rehabilitation of the child as soon as the complaint is made to the Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) or local police. These units of police have to make instant arrangements to give the child protection and admit him/her to a hospital or shelter home within 24 hours of the crime being committed.
- The SJPU or the police are instructed to report the matter to the Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours of recording the complaint so that they can make necessary arrangements for the long-term rehabilitation of the child in question.
- The POCSO Act also instructs the Central and State Governments a duty to spread awareness through advertisements on popular media forums including the television and the print media to make the general public, children as well as their parents aware of the need to keep children safe and to make them understand the provisions of the POCSO Act. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCRs) are the designated authorities who monitor the implementation of the POCSO Act, 2012
- The POCSO Act was made even stricter by the Union Cabinet in 2019 by including a proposed amendment which states that for the protection of children from sexual offenses during natural calamities where children are injected, any chemical substance to attain sexual maturity for the purpose of sexual assault. The key introduction is approval to give the death penalty to a rapist of a child for committing aggravated sexual assault of penetrative nature.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have entailed major changes for many children and their families, not just because of the lockdown, restricted measures, social isolation, changing demographics, and the reduction of available health services, but also due to the sudden and possibly long-term increase in child poverty and family uncertainty. The pandemic represents a global crisis not only for our health and economy but also for family well-being through a cascading process of factors that can drive, precipitate or exacerbate potential stressors. The situation generated by COVID-19 has few precedents, but we can build on the work in crisis or emergency situations where scenarios of rapidly increasing stress are accompanied by abrupt changes to prior conditions (see the review by).
The effects of disasters and mass violence on individual development can be described in relation to the exposure dose or cumulative risks that pose significant threats or disturbances to individuals, families, or communities. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic has been conceptualized as a multisystem cascading global disaster in which children’s lives have been dramatically disrupted at many levels and for which our societies were unprepared. Indeed, research on COVID-19 is beginning to show the negative outcomes of the lockdown and the restrictions imposed as well as the effects of social stressors on family members and highlights the need for longitudinal examination of children’s and adolescents’ mental health. Emerging evidence on both healthy parenting and the mental health of children and adolescents stresses that the magnitude of the impact depends on vulnerability factors such as developmental age, previous mental health conditions, educational and socioeconomic status, or being quarantined.
This dramatically changing context also needs to be understood in order to address the risk of violence against children and adolescents, which is essential if our aim is to prevent or detect these cases before the consequences of this violence are irremediable. In this paper, we analyze the risk factors for violence against this population from the perspective of criminological theories and socio-ecological models.
Violence against children significantly undermines the social and economic development of communities and nations. The global economic costs resulting from physical, psychological, and sexual violence against children are estimated to be as high as $7 trillion – roughly 8 percent of global GDP annually.
Increased public expenditure on child welfare, special education, and medical and psychological services for victims account for some of these costs. Victims coping with the psychosocial and physical effects of violence also face barriers to participating in public life and fulfilling their potential. Violence, particularly in schools, undermines children’s ability to learn, with consequences for their education and employment prospects that can pass through generations.
In both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), countries committed to ending violence against children. The SDGs call for the end of abuse, exploitation, and all forms of violence and torture against children by 2030.
Ghanashyam Misra vs The State on 27 November 1956
Way back in 1956, the Orissa High Court, recognizing that the offense was committed by the offense is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority for the child, enhanced the sentence of Ghanashyam Misra, a school teacher who raped a 10-year-old girl on the school premises. The judgment reads – “The circumstances are all of an aggravating nature. The victim is a young girl of ten years, and the culprit is an adult of 39 years… He took advantage of his position by inducing her to come inside the School room and committed such an atrocious act, the consequence of which might as well be the complete ruin of the future life of the girl.’ Not only did the court enhance the sentence to seven years but also ordered the accused to pay compensation to the father and the child.
Gurcharan Singh vs State Of Haryana on 13 September, 1972
A girl under 16 years was ‘forcibly taken by the accused to his fields, outside the village where he committed rape on her. The court ruled that the mere absence of marks of violence on the victim is immaterial because she was under 16 years of age. More importantly, it ruled that the victim cannot be considered an accomplice to the act.
Mathura Rape Case (Tuka Ram And Anr vs State Of Maharashtra on 15 September 1978)
The Mathura rape case was an incident of custodial rape in India on 26 March 1972, wherein Mathura, a tribal girl who was a minor at the time, was allegedly raped by two policemen on the compound of Desai Ganj Police Station in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. After the Supreme Court acquitted the accused, there was public outcry and protests, which eventually led to amendments in Indian rape law via The Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act 1983.
Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum vs UOI and Others on 14 December, 1989
Six young domestic workers traveling on a train from Ranchi to Delhi were brutally harassed, assaulted, and raped by army personnel. Acknowledging the hardships faced by the victims throughout the judicial process, this judgment delineated several guidelines to be followed when dealing with cases of sexual offences:-
- The complainants of sexual assault cases should be provided with adequate legal representation
- Legal assistance will have to be provided at the police station
- The police should be under a duty to inform the victim of her right to representation before any questions were asked of her.
- A list of advocates willing to act in these cases should be kept at the police station for victims.
- The advocate shall be appointed by the court, upon application by the police at the earliest convenient moment.
- In all rape trials, the anonymity of the victim must be maintained, as far as necessary.
- Rape victims need to be given adequate and fair financial compensation.
- Compensation for victims shall be awarded by the court whether or not a conviction has taken place.
Anchorage Case (Allan John Waters vs State Of Maharashtra on 23 July 2008 & Childline India Foundation & Anr vs Alan John Waters & Ors on 18 March 2011)
In 2001, a case of institutional child sexual abuse was exposed in Colaba, Mumbai in which British nationals and former officers of the navy, Allan Waters and Duncan Grant had started an orphanage by the name of Anchorage Home which was a center of sex tourism for many foreign nationals. In March 2006, a Mumbai sessions court sentenced Grant and Waters to six years in prison on the charge of sodomy and sexually abusing five minor boys. They challenged the conviction in the Bombay High Court, which acquitted them in 2008. However, in 2011, Supreme Court restored the conviction and the sentence. Grant and Waters have since completed their sentence and returned to the UK where they have been put on the Sex Offenders Register.
Child Sexual Abuse is a bane of Indian society and hence the Act was introduced in 2012. However, no law can be implemented effectively and efficiently, without the dedicated and coordinated efforts of the investigating and implementing agencies. A multi-lateral approach is required in this regard, and the onus lies with the state governments, police departments, the judicial system, and medical fraternity to implement the act with urgency and to approach these cases with urgency, empathy, and compassion. Speedy trials are possible only if the judges, their staff, prosecution, police, and defense coordinate with each other, failing which concept of special courts will be defeated. Further, doctors need to be trained to understand the intricacies and help in the proper scientific collection of various evidence while examining a child victim of sexual abuse. In recent years, there is an increase in the number of cases being reported and the same is due to the awareness which was able to be created through various awareness programs and efforts of NGOs. To improve the rate of conviction, it is important to boost up both investigation and trial for speedy and efficient delivery of justice.
However, to fully understand the extent of the effects of domestic violence on children, there are several areas that need to be considered for future research. First, more needs to be known about the incidence and prevalence of child witnesses, and about the interrelationship between witnessing violence and experiencing other forms of child abuse and neglect. Secondly, child witnesses to domestic violence tend to be a heterogeneous population. It is therefore necessary to further identify factors that mediate children’s reactions rather than assuming that all children will be equally affected by witnessing violence. For instance, these variables could be child-related, such as gender, temperament, or intelligence; adult related, such as identification of individual characteristics; or family-related, such as the quality of the parent-child relationship or parenting practices, as well as determining the intensity and length of the violence.
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