The Ugly Specter of Child Abuse: Who to Blame?

The Ugly Specter of Child Abuse: Who to Blame?
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Parveez Ahmad Bhat

Haya Nahin Hai Zamane Ki Ankh Mein Baqi
Khuda Kare Jawani Teri Rahe Be-Dagh
(May God make thee a virtuous, blameless youth,
Thou livest in an age deprived of decency)

This thought provoking couplet of Allama Iqbal in Javid Nama is about the growing immorality and wrong attitude towards reality in both the East and the West to the younger generation in the person of his son, Javid. Before the fall of any society, rampant immorality reigns. Unfortunately, such perversion has gripped our society. One manifestation of this is child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is so despicable that most of us do not even want to think about it. Shame and abuse surround it. Unfortunately, it does take place in our society, and it is something we need to deal with. And, contrary to what many believe, it is not just girls who are at risk. Boys too suffer from sexual abuse. In fact, sexual abuse of boys may be underreported due to shame and stigma. Every year hundreds of children become victims of crime- whether it is through kidnapping, violent attacks, sexual abuse, or online predators. Their pain exudes emotional blood from psychic pores.
Child abuse is the intentional infliction of physical, moral, and sexual pain and suffering on а child. Most of the abusers are people known to the victims like parents, relatives, neighbors, friends, teachers and clerics. Mostly the poor and under privileged children are the targets of these sexual predators. There are many gruesome stories at our door step: the rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa of Hiranagar which shook our conscience, an incident of 7 year old minor who was raped by father of her friend in a Magam village, 2012 Delhi gang rape victim Nirbhaya, 8 month infant raped by her 28 year old cousin in New Delhi, Gulzar Peer, held on charges of raping girl students at his seminary in Budgam in 2012, to cite a few. This is a universal problem that can be perpetrated by anyone, of any faith. Anyone can be a victim. Isn’t it our duty to act, support and speak out?
Child sexual abuse has a very serious impact (negative) on the child. The effects of sexual abuse extend far beyond childhood. It robs children of their childhood and creates a loss of trust, feeling of guilt and self-abusive behavior. It can lead to antisocial behavior, depression, identity confusion, loss of self-esteem, suicidal tendencies and other emotional problems. It can also lead to difficulty with intimate relationships later in life. Finally, the sexual abuse makes it more difficult for the survivor of abuse to function in his or her life overall.
What can we say when we come across the utterly depraved, degenerate and debauched crimes against children of the kind we are witnessing in our society every now and then? What is the point of us ranting against them, when it is obvious that the incidents brook no debate that these are utterly and wholly reprehensible acts in any society? What more can we do than let our soul cry in sympathy and anguish for the victims of such terrible tragedies?
Every parent is living in fear-worried every moment about their child’s safety. The offenders roam around freely. Whom to blame- the neighbourhood, the friends or relatives, the seminaries, the school management, the police, the government or the society?
We are familiar with the Kashmiri proverb “R’achis Dhuh Tsu’ras Gaer” (The watchman has to watch all the day, but just a moment is enough for a thief to steal). The malefactors, who are malevolently opportunistic, typically plan their sexual abuse of children with care. They may groom children by offering gifts and compliments or may take the benefit of isolation. The offender often establishes a trusting relationship with the family and friends of children, tricking and manipulating them to reduce the likelihood of them discovering the abuse. In this web of deceit abusers protect themselves, ensure ongoing access to the child and secure power over the child and others in the child’s life.
Because this type of exploitation thrives on silence and secrecy, the antidote is bringing the issue to light. Societal silence on child sexual abuse protects perpetrators and enables abuse to persist. Child protection cannot be a job that is relegated to an authority-be it the police, social services, or a school. Child protection is everyone’s responsibility. Children will be protected when citizens take personal responsibility for child protection. For that we have to develop “we feeling” and “oneness” which was engrained in our fore-fathers. This will start when people are willing to have fair discussions, change the assumptions about prosecutors and perpetrators, and have the courage to act when they have concerns about the children in their communities.
We all need to look at this issue, not to turn blind eye. A well-focused mass media campaign, educational programs and vigilant societal approach has the potential to contribute successfully to community education and the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The media casts an eye on events that few of us directly experience and renders remote happenings observable and meaningful and placing issues like child abuse on the public and political agenda. Tribal pockets where habitation is scattered and isolated are more prone to exploitation. Protection of children needs a series of preventive and administrative measures. Police training and vigilance are a must. The yawning gap between the holy moral proclamation and dishonourable moral recklessness of the society has created a fertile ground for the blossoming of practices that are morally unacceptable.
The government is bound to do everything in its power to prevent, identify and deal with child sexual abuse. What we need most immediately is a fast-track investigation procedure for such crimes and a fast-track justice system to bring the perpetrators to book, to the fullest extent of law, as speedily as possible. Jail them under strictest conditions and hang them when warranted, but do so speedily; not twenty years later.
We have laws/ stratagems in place but their implementation is poor – J & K Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013, prosecution under certain sections of IPC/ RPC. Beti- Bachao Beti- Padhao, Operation Smile- an initiative of Union Home Ministry, RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest)- a NCW support centre for women survivors of child sexual abuse. “#Me Too” a rallying cry on social media is to disseminate awareness about harassment, to help survivors realize that they are not alone and to end cycle of sexual violence. Still there are glaring gaps in our existing system that need to be urgently addressed before we jump to formulating new solutions. Implementation is a governance issue and it is this which needs to be addressed. Police, medical personnel and civil society still need to be sensitized on it. Jammu and Kashmir Government should immediately bring special law like POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012) to help child victims of sexual offences in availing support from authorities, immediate compensation and a stringent criminal justice system for speedy trial. As per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) statistics, 85 % of the victims were abused by family members close relatives. Merely 25% of the cases were reported. In only 3% of the cases, FIR was registered against the accused. Threats by abusers render the child and his/her parents speechless. They are too terrified to talk about what is happening for fear of the consequences. They should be encouraged to come forward. They can heal in emotional visibility. Even one child’s silence is massively dangerous because on an average a single molester will abuse 50 more victims.
A little reflection can reveal that not all institutions are irresponsible. Police and media can’t be everywhere. There are instances in which child abuse can be clearly connected to a collective failure of society. The societal failure to provide a secure and beneficial environment for children manifests itself in many ways. These include lack of quality education, abuse within the family and neighbourhood, gender and caste-based discrimination, communalism, drug addiction and so on. NGOs, community groups, faith leaders and enlightened members of civil society can play a positive role in the awareness of public. In earlier times, the Argus- Eyed elders would watch children and take them to task if they were seen sauntering around during school hours or doing wrong things. Now the things have changed. The materialistic and intolerant society has snatched this right to them.
Immorality is reached through different means; by sight, actions or words. To protect our children from bad uncles and aunties we need smart, strict and vigilant parenting. Prevention is better than cure and this prevention of child abuse is the responsibility of each and every parent, school and the society as a whole. An oxymoron “Respect All Suspect All” should be indoctrinated for the safety of children. Make sure the places they spend time are safe. Know who your child is spending time with. Choose caregivers carefully. We should teach our children what appropriate sexual behaviour is and what is good touch or bad touch. Here mothers and elder sisters should come forward. It is critical to provide adequate supervision for your children and only leave them in the care of individuals whom you deem safe. Observe an adult who is paying an unusual amount of attention to your child or vice versa, ask the children to not go near strangers even if they offer them lift, gifts or chocolates, ascertain whether your child is not alone to get off the school bus during wee hours. Most of the times, you may be taunted and blamed as troglodyte. Embrace it, as the safety of child is paramount and is pride of parenthood. It is also crucial for the parents to create a protective environment for the child and to guide their children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse.
Police should take prompt action when matter is brought before them without any differentiation between common and powerful. Weak investigative and institutional machinery simply don’t work and is against the mandate of the constitutional rights of child. Thorough surveillance system should be in place with proper follow up. The crime needs a strong approach to make children empowered, and fight back sexual advances. The aphorism that “our children are our nation’s most valuable resource” should be more than a slogan. Finally, at the heart of child abuse and neglect is a concern with their basic rights, their human rights.

—The author can be reached at: bhatparveez12@gmail.com