Where We Lag on Child Protection

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By Sameena Mohiuddin

The way children are dealt with and treated, have a great influence and impact, on their entire lives. Children learn from every little incident in their lives. The problem is that even though, situations could be controlled in immediate surroundings, and we don’t have enough control over the outside world. Children are the most innocent beings and in need of care and protection.Considering the vulnerable nature of children, they have been identified by judiciary and have a recognized legal status. Children as a special and vulnerable section of our societies have been identified almost 29 years ago by United Nations. In this, regard the Convention on the Rights of Children in 1989 has been formed. Though , the journey has started a long time ago when “need to extent particular care to children” has been started in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of Children in 1924 and in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly on 20th November 1959 and later recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.In the Universal Declaration, “child means every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
Children are in need of special care and approach and this is universal. Identifying the special needs of children, India ratified the United Nation’s convention on the Rights of Children on 11th December 1992. Keeping in mind the best interests of the children, many laws were formed and one among them is Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Act. Juvenile Justice act has been divided into two parts, one for “juveniles in conflict with law” and another for “children in need of care and protection”.Children in conflict with law are those children who has come in contact with the justice system as a result of committing a crime or being suspected of committing a crime and children in need of care and protection laws are provided for dealing with those children who are the victims of various forms of abuse and neglect and for the prosecution of those who are guilty of perpetrating the abuse. Requirements of both the groups are different and laws are formed accordingly. For the former, the justice model is adopted and for latter welfare model is included. A justice model focusses on the deeds of the child, viewing those whose misdeeds merit appropriate penalties. By contrast, the welfare model addresses the needs of the child, it seeks to rehabilitate or treat the child.
Almost every country has adopted and formed special policies for children, as per their requirements. Though, the need for special acts for children was always there it has been only recently that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has adopted the Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Act, 2013. Again, the Act has been divided into two parts: First for Juveniles in conflict with law and second for children in need of care and protection.The law has included almost all the aspects that needed to be cared about and sexual abuse of children is no exception. Though, Sexual Abuse is included in the bill what is lacking is a well elaborated definition of Child Sexual Abuse.The definition of Sexual Abuse is not provided which might prove to be very confusing as far as application of the same is concerned.
Child Sexual abuse (CSA) is a very complex issue that needs to be understood. To understand the term more appropriately, the standard definition of Child Sexual Abuse is that ‘it is the involvement of developmentally immature children and adolescents in sexual actions which they cannot fully comprehend, to which they cannot give informed consent, and which violates the taboos of social roles’. Sexual behaviour may involve touching parts of the child or requesting the child touch oneself, itself or others; ogling the child in a sexual manner, taking pornographic photographs, or requesting the child look at parts of the body, sexual acts or other materials in a way which is arousing to oneself. Definition of CSA varies considerably and with the innovations made by the perpetrators for abusing children, the definition is also changing. As, most of the cases of CSA leave no physical marks and are not evident, and not that all sexual abuse cases include penetration, the nature of abuse needs to be included. However, the JJ(C&P) actdoes not include whether abuse apart from penetrative nature is considered as sexual abuse neither does it provide the ways of dealing with the perpetrator and how the survivor will be cared.
Children are innocent beings and lack either understanding or equality with adults, or both. This suggests that any strategy to protect children from abuse will be inadequate if it maintains children in their ignorance and powerlessness. The Bill passed for the welfare of children needs to include the strategies, keeping in view various aspects of CSA and mental level of children. First of all, considering the impact of CSA on the mental health of children, such cases should be handled with sensitivity and only those people who have expertise at handling such children should be employed. Keeping in view CSA as taboo in our society, such cases needs to be handled with confidentiality. For the welfare of children, the laws need to be amended as per the requirements. Apart from amending the laws, making environment of the whole process child friendly, from filing a complaint to last hearing of the case, is necessary so that children won’t feel traumatised on a serial basis. There are many cases of CSA that go unreported due to the fear of losing societal reputation and apprehension regarding future of children. Laws should be formed in such a way that people should feel protected from any disgrace and should readily come forward to complain. The law will not work until people are not taken into confidence. Children also needs proper counselling for that appropriate way to consult a counsellor or a psychiatrist should be formed respecting the child’s privacy and comfort level. At the end what is targeted is the best interest of the child that should be reached keeping in view all the aspects of CSA, mental and emotional state of children.

—The author holds a Master’s in Human Development. She can be reached at: sameenakhaja12@gmail.com