Stories of child sex abuse are horrifying. The recent case of a bus conductor sexually abusing and then killing a seven-year-old in a Gurugram school has sparked a nationwide discourse on child abuse in public spaces. This is not the sole case. A few weeks back, we saw similar cases coming from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and various other states.

A few of such cases get reported, but there is a huge chunk of unreported cases that are discussed in closed groups. Some never get talked about at all and deeply affect the psyche of the survivors. And several studies prove that the perpetrators are mostly known to the children — relatives, school staff etc. So it becomes a further challenge to report those the children are related to.

In a bid to sensitize and awaken college students towards the cause of child sex abuse and harassment, SheThePeople.Tv and Safecity came together to organize a legal roundtable to discuss the issue. This time we organized it at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Physical Education and Sports Sciences on Friday (Sept 29).

Founder of Safecity, Elsa Marie D’Silva says that Legal Roundtables are a medium for us to educate students and educators on the spectrum of sexual violence and the various legislations that are available for recourse.

Sexual violence is a global pandemic affecting one in three women around the world on an average. Most of these occur before the age of 16 and yet 80% of us choose not to report it officially, thus making the issue invisible,” – Elsa Marie D’Silva

She added, “Child sex abuse prevention is everyone’s responsibility. Understanding the law, the procedure for reporting and one’s own responsibility if someone confides in us, is extremely important. We must create safe spaces for discussion and encourage reporting and finding help if we want a healthy and inclusive society.”

“Unfortunately, we live in a country where criminal justice system is largely broken from the bottom to the top. There is not much  in the system. So despite having POCSO, its effectiveness is questionable,” – Namrata Mukherjee

The law and its implementation

In 2012, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) came into existence. It brought with it several safety measures and a legitimate to procedure to take on perpetrators of child abuse.

Panellist, Namrata Mukherjee, a Research Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said that prior to POCSO, we only had sections 376, 354 and 377. “And these sections of IPC were falling short in dealing with child sexual abuse, mainly because these only deal with women victims and not male victims. Boys below the age of 18 often found it very difficult to move the court.”

So POCSO is gender-neutral and consider both men and women as perpetrators of sexual abuse. It deals with a range of crimes like penetrative sexual assault, oral sex, inserting an object inside a girl — they all constitute to rape in the eyes of the law, said Mukherjee. She also explained how POCSO has introduced child-friendly procedures in the law. “So right from the stage of police investigation to medical examination by doctors to carrying out trial by the judge.”

ALSO READ: Legal Round Table: Creating Awareness on Sexual Harassment

However, Mukherjee also shed light on the way criminal proceedings work in India. She said, “Unfortunately, we live in a country where criminal justice system is largely broken eight from the bottom to the top. There is not much faith in the system. So despite having this law, its effectiveness is questionable.”

Another panellist, Ritu Priya, Program Manager with Hanns Siedel Foundatione, said, “We have really good laws in place. What we need to focus on urgently is effective implementation and accountability.”

“Sex education covers your relationship with your body as it changes during puberty. Why do you feel things when you like someone? And when you want to indulge in a sexual activity or kiss someone in your teenage years, the first thing you need to keep in mind is consent,”-Japleen Pasricha

Why is sex education important at an early age?

Child sex abuse has a clear connection with lack of sex education and taboo around it at an early age. Many times, children don’t realize that what is happening with them is wrong and inappropriate and it dawns on them much later in life.

Panellist Japleen Pasricha, founder and editor-in-chief of Feminism in India, spoke in-depth about what sex education entails and why it is necessary. “Sex education covers your relationship with your body as it changes during puberty. Why do you feel things when you like someone? And when you want to indulge in a sexual activity or kiss someone in your teenage years, the first thing you need to keep in mind is consent,” said Pasricha.

Normalizing of rape culture through books, movies etc

Today, we feed on movies, dialogues, songs etc that normalize sexual harassment and rape culture. Even text book content is very regressive where you read that darker girls’ parents have to pay more dowry etc. And moral education teaches that girls should sit in a certain manner to show morality. Priya said that all these things lead to a kind of rape culture where it seems okay for the perpetrator to rape a girl if she is wearing short clothes.”

“Even the teachers grow up listening to certain social cultural norms which they pass on to the younger generation. And most of it constitutes to victim-shaming. The abuse words are also heavily sexist in nature. We are normalizing a culture where saying things about girls and doing things to them is okay,” she added.

How patriarchy forces masculinity on boys?

“Patriarchy affects boys as it does girls since childhood. People find masculinity in how tough a boy is, who doesn’t show emotions, who grows beard etc,” – Pasricha

Patriarchy affects boys as it does girls since childhood. People find masculinity in how tough a boy is, who doesn’t show emotions, who grows beard etc, said Pasricha.

She added that this builds up peer pressure during teenage among boys. So for young boys, it becomes difficult to talk about sexual abuse as compared to girls. She said that if we demolish patriarchy, then it will not only profit girls, but profits boys equally.

ALSO READ: Get schooled on sexual harassment laws in India from lawyer Karuna Nundy

“But it is a structural and a social problem and the law cannot address it, said Mukherjee. “Law will only swing into action when the crime has happened. And however much the law tries, it cannot prevent the offence.”

“Teachers have a very overpowering influence on students and that is why it has to start from schools,”- Ritu Priya

Prevention guidelines and measures

Priya said the UGC has a set of guidelines that every school must follow. Then there is also the Juvenile Justice Act. But the problem is of implementation. “I believe that institutions must consider child abuse as gravely as it is. They should formulate a personal set of comprehensive rules to fight it. They should also notice the perpetuation of rape culture and sexism classes and take preventive action against it.”

“Teachers have a very overpowering influence on students and that is why it has to start from schools. We must teach children that it isn’t their mistake every time and that the teacher can be wrong in their behaviour as well. And this learning should begin from playschool and from the age of three years. Parents should start talking about these things to their children.”

Dr Sarita Tyagi, Associate Professor at IGIPESS, said the roundtable helped make students aware of the various nuances of child sex abuse. It is important to be sensitive about it to report cases and the things happening around them.

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