Lack of child-friendly environment where children can speak up also to blame, say activists.

40 pc child abuse cases unreported in Telangana Activists cite social stigma low convictionImage for representation
news News Friday, June 23, 2017 - 20:13

Cyberabad police on Thursday arrested a school principal for allegedly outraging the modesty of a 13-year-old girl student in the school.

The incident which happened on June 20, came to light on Thursday after the arrest of the accused, Vishwanath.

“The accused on June 20, called the 13-year-old to his cabin and made obscene gestures. He also used to stalk her. Next day, the victim narrated the incident to her parents, following which they filed a complaint,” Inspector Chand Babu told The News Minute.

Neredmet police have registered a case under Section 354 of IPC (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

Two days ago, another sexual assault case of a 15-year-old girl came to light. The accused, Sunith Kumar, running an NGO in Secunderabad had allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old inmate.

“In a week, there are two child abuse cases which have come to light. The child abuse rates have been increasing. In 2017, there are already over 360 cases under POCSO Act from Telangana,” said Achyuta Rao, a Hyderabad-based child rights activist.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2015, Telangana recorded sixth highest instances of rape of minors.

The report reveals that 705 cases of child rape were registered from Telangana, as against 489 in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh.

“Parents send their children to private schools, hoping to get a good education for them. However, these kinds of cases have now made parents sceptical about the safety of their children even in schools,” the activist added.

Social stigma main reason for increase in cases

While there are several cases which are reported in police stations, activists say 40% of the cases of child abuse go unreported.

“There are several social factors which surround the issue. The first point which we should address is that there is no child-friendly environment in schools and communities, where children find it comfortable to speak up. There have been several cases of child sexual abuse in schools, yet we still lack proper safety and security,” says Varsha Bhargavi, an advisor to the Telangana state Child Rights Protection Forum.

She says that due to social stigma, the unreported cases mostly involve minor boys.

“There is reverse sexism in these cases as well. As boys are taught not to cry and not to be weak, they fail to open up about such abuse. There have been several cases of minor boys being victims of sexual abuse, however, they are not encouraged to talk about it,” she adds.

According to Achyuta Rao, less than 10% of the minor boys who have faced sexual abuse report it, while the rest do not prefer to talk about it due to the stigma attached.

“Another reason for constant rise in child abuse is the low rate of conviction under POCSO Act. Only 5% of the total accused have been convicted in more than one year,” says Achyuta.

From filing an FIR to registering a charge sheet, the entire process is painstakingly slow and several cases are stuck either in the investigation process or trial phase.

Lack of child-friendly environment

“People are unaware of the procedures in these cases. Several people do not know that the child needs medical assistance not only for health purposes, but also because the first 48 hours are crucial to collect evidence. As children are so uncomfortable talking about sex and sexual abuse, they inform their parents too late. By the time the family consults elders and files a case, the evidences are usually gone. It eventually takes a lot of time for the police to prove the case and collect evidence,” says Varsha.

The lack of proper empathy by various departments also makes it difficult for children to speak up, she adds.

“In some of the cases, police question the minor victim and accused together. It is too much for a child who has faced harassment to stomach. Police department needs to be more child-friendly in such cases,” says Achyuta.

“As per the POCSO Act, special courts are necessary. But, in Telangana, the courts are not ‘special’. They are regular sessions courts where other major cases like anti-terror cases, narcotic cases, immoral trafficking cases are being tried. These judges have a huge backlog,” a senior advocate earlier told Deccan Chronicle.

The activist also said that the medical care given to the child victims is not sensitive to their needs. Especially in rural areas, where three to four villages share one Public Health Centre, they lack not only regular staff but also a psychologist who can talk to the victim and give proper counselling.

“It is high time for sex education to be made compulsory from a young age for both boys and girls, so that children can understand sexual abuse. There should be more efforts to sensitise the issue especially in the rural areas of the state. This is how we can give the children a platform to discuss their issues,” says Varsha.