In a country where every child is considered as an incarnation of God, it comes as a surprise that in every 155th minute a child is raped, and one in every 10 children is sexually abused at a given point in time.[i] India is home to 18% of the world’s children, and every second child in the country has been through sexual assault and abuse and leads the world as a country with maximum cases of child sexual exploitation. These are the only numbers that have been reported, numerous have vanished and have left their grave life-long impacts on children and continue to traumatize them throughout their lives. Child Sexual Abuse is a form of child abuse where an adult abuses and sexually exploits a child for his/her own exigencies. Under the POCSO Act, 2012, any person who is below 18 years of age has been considered as a child. The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males. Most child sexual abuse is committed by men; studies on female child molesters show that women commit 14% to 40% of offenses reported against boys and 6% of offenses reported against girls.[ii] Such abuses affect the children physically, mentally and leave the effects like depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety. According to the National Crime Record Bureau data, in 2018, 39827 cases were filed under POCSO Act.
Analysis of CSA
In India, Child Sexual Abuse has always been a hidden predicament, ignored by most of society and by the criminal judiciary system. On a surprising note, it has been found out that in 90% of the abuse or harassment cases, culprits have been known to the children or are whom the children trust. There have been incidents where fathers, cousins, relatives, and neighbors were found exploiting their children of the family which shows that the children need security and protection in their own houses and from their own family members and neighbors.
In a situation of the pandemic, where people were locked up in their homes and had no option of going out, the situation became worse and proved to be nothing short than hell who were trapped with their abusers for a long time. [iii]It was observed that in the first 11 days of the lockdown itself, CHILDLINE for children, which is backed by the Ministry for Women and Child Development, received 3.07 lakh calls of which 92,105 calls were about regarding the abuse and violence on children. A 50 percent increase was found in the number of calls during this period. In Indian society, parents of assaulted children are ashamed and afraid of reporting such crimes which motivate the abuser to continue doing such heinous crimes with small children. Fear of social stigma, an unwillingness to implicate family members, and other factors discourage families from exposing abuse.
[iv]What happens after a child has been sexually abused is critical, not only to his or her recovery but also to the protection of other children, since if the perpetrator is never identified or allowed to remain free, the abuse might well be repeated.
Child Sexual Abuse has also been identified as a serious health issue which not only damages a child’s physical body but also makes an impact on their mind. The trauma experienced during the abuse has lifetime ramifications. The CSA survivors are at greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as personality disorders, etc.
In 2018, around 108 children were sexually abused daily in India and this was the scenario post-implementation of the POCSO Act, 2012 which was made peculiarly for the protection of children from sexual abuse and harassment. In the pre-2012 period, only the Indian Penal Code and Goa Children’s Act ensured the protection against sexual abuse but they were not effective enough to punish the culprits involved in such heinous crimes towards children due to various loopholes and differed interpretations.
That’s when, in 2012, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) was made so as to ensure that the children below 18 years of age, irrespective of their gender; are protected at all costs. [v]The POCSO Act, 2012 is an exhaustive law made to ensure the protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and exhibits speedy trials, recording of evidence, and proper evidence considering the heinous crimes committed against the children.
POCSO defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age and defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography. Child trafficking has also been made punishable under the said Act. It prescribes stringent punishment graded as per the gravity of the offence, with a maximum term of rigorous imprisonment for life, and fine and was made distinctive enough which could penalize attempt and abetment of any of the offences stated above.
Since 2012, every year more than 30,000 cases are filed under POCSO Act but only a few of them get justice and the sentences are awarded to the culprits. The highest cases of Child sexual abuse were filed in the year 2020, where the rest of the world was dealing with the virus pandemic, but the children who were locked up in their homes were forced to tolerate the assault and the harassment. The year 2021 is no different, dreadful and spine-chilling cases were filed under POCSO and some unpredictable yet awful judgments were passed by the Judiciary.
In the case of [vi]Satish vs. the State of Maharashtra, a judgment was passed by the Bombay High Court where it was decided that only skin-to-skin contact with the victim’s body would be considered as Sexual assault under POCSO, otherwise not; which raised a lot of questions as to how the judgment was fair for the victim minor girl who had to tolerate the sexual abuse and no justice was awarded to her. In another judgment of [vii]Libnus vs. the State of Maharashtra, a 50-year-old man accused was abusing sexually harassing a 5-year-old girl was set free because his conviction was reduced by the High Court of Bombay. In another judgment, where [viii]Madras High Court granted bail to a man who impregnated a 17-year-old minor girl and promised that he will marry the girl once she attains the majority. Such judgments create a question mark as to how and when proper justice will be laid out for the kids who had to suffer through worse in their lives at a very small age.
- “Sex Education” which is contemplated like a taboo in our country; must be made compulsory and the kids must be taught to raise their voices against the wrongdoings.
- CHILDLINE 1908 must be promoted and children must be made aware of such helpline numbers.
- Surveillance systems must be improved for monitoring child sexual abuse. Understanding of risk and protective factors for child sexual abuse must be increased.
Life and Liberty are every citizen’s right and no person can be deprived of them. Every child has the right to live freely; without any threats and fears. Child Sexual Abuse and harassment have ruined the childhoods of little saplings of the country. No nation can ever flourish if children of such nations are unsafe or are suffering. POCSO 2012 has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to tackling the problem of CSA in India. It has identified and criminalized a range of unacceptable sexual behaviors that pose a threat to children. To make India a happy and safe country for children, lessons should be learned from past mistakes and more stringent laws must be formed which can create fear in the minds of the abusers. Child Sexual Abuse is a sin that should now be stopped before it ruins the future of our nation.
[vi] Criminal Appeal No. 161 OF 2020/ Bombay High Court
[vii] Criminal Appeal no. 445 of 2020/ Bombay High Court