Come to me, otherwise I will tell your mother,” she said to Vijayeta (name changed), a slip of a girl at seven years. Unfortunately, Vijayeta did not know that what was about to happen was precisely something that her mother should have been told.
She still remembers that it was the winter of 2003 when the tenants moved into the floor her family had rented out. The perpetrator, the tenants’ daughter, was 16 years old and Vijayeta called her didi (elder sister). What was done to her comes under the new definition of rape, even if it was done by a person of the same gender. That such incidents are an outcome of repressed sexuality is small consolation for a victim.
That was 12 years back, but the sorry saga continues:
9 October 2015 – RAPED – a four-year-old 16
October 2015 – RAPED – a two-year-old
16 October 2015 – RAPED – a five-year-old.
Incidentally, in all these cases, the perpetrator was known to the victim. In two of these cases, the victim identified her perpetrator as ‘bhaiya’ (elder brother). In the third, five-year-old Pavitra (name changed), despite not having the words to describe what happened, protested when they grabbed her. Swati Maliwal, Chairperson of Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) observes, “She probably knew the difference between good touch and bad touch. Pavitra also must have known that what was happening was wrong as her mother had strictly told her not to go anywhere with strangers.” On the very floor above her home, she was raped, violated.
Childhood is the most delicate and the most impressionable phase of life and naturally, a child needs utmost care and protection. Parents, family members, teachers, neighbours and all those around the child are automatically responsible for his/her well being. However, society fails its children every moment, with at least 53 percent of them being victims of sexual abuse, i.e. more than half of the total population of children. This has led to various government policies in India that work towards ensuring the safety of children.
A legal framework in place to ensure the safety of children is through the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, wherein the reporting of a case of child sexual abuse is mandatory. Any person withholding such knowledge from the law is punishable with up to six months of imprisonment along with a fine. POCSO also provides for fast-track courts that are required to wrap up a case of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) within a year. The Act also directs for an effective response method and the presence of a parent or other trusted person at the time of the medical examination and during the court trials.
Section 39 of POCSO mandates the state governments to maintain certain guidelines for the people working with children who have been sexually abused. The Centre has formulated some model guidelines based on which the states can form their own. Keeping in mind that an abused child is highly traumatised and vulnerable to repeated abuse, these guidelines seek to ensure child-sensitive, specialised treatment during the entire medical and court procedure.
A report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development published in September 2013 elucidates the various processes and mishandlings that could potentially harm the abused child’s healing process. For instance, if the court handling such a case is not sensitive towards children, the child is subjected to repeated probing and made to relive that horrific incident again and again, which leaves bitter traces in her memory.
After being violated, a child goes through turbulent emotions, most prominent of them being fear. More often than not, the child is blackmailed or bribed into keeping his/her silence. She might withdraw into a shell and that is when the role of the child’s protector becomes all the more indispensable.
Vijayeta recalls how troublesome it was for her to tell her mother about what was happening. “Mumma, ek baat bataun?” (Mom, can I tell you something?) These used to be her words every time she tried to tell her mother. “Chhodo, kuchh nahi,” (Leave it, it’s nothing) would be her reply for three months every time her mother asked her what was happening. It was only when she was in the second year of graduate studies that she finally came out to her mother, confiding every last detail of the repeated incidents in her childhood.
Like many other schools, Vijayeta’s school had not sensitised the students about sexual abuse and its recognition. Therefore she did not understand the gravity of what was happening to her. By the time she did that, it was already too late. Looking back, she feels that it was the stigma attached with such discussions that led to opacity and put her in repeated danger. DCW chairperson Maliwal says, “Sensitisation is indeed coming into the society. However, it needs to be increased manifold. The need of the hour is sex education in schools.”