January 21, 2010

Jan 15, 2010

Times of India

We need a separate set of child laws

Pinki Virani (Ruchika Rathore case) - Winner of a national award for Bitter Chocolate, an eye-opener book on child sexual abuse, author-activist Pinki Virani tells Nandita Sengupta the nation has let down its children in the Ruchika Girhotra case.

You have said that government response to the Girhotra case is appalling.
In the national outrage on Ruchika, government has missed the woods for the trees. I'm appalled that the law minister says we will now strengthen the molestation law. He doesn't realise that a child is not an adult and it's not only girls who are abused. Boys are lost in the national discourse on molestation. For one, the molestation law does not cover boys. Cutting across all classes, 25 per cent boys are sexually abused at any point in time. That means one in four under-16 boys. The count is 40 per cent for girls, but don't ignore the boys. We need a separate set of child laws. The nation is in complete denial about child abuse. Statistics of missing children are staggering. Where do they go? Instead of looking at real reform, government is seized by this molestation law, playing adult games.

What would be the ambit of child laws?
Child protection laws would include any crime inflicted on a child by an adult: sexual and porn, physical and emotional, ragging, corporal punishment. Within this, you recognise differences: family abuse and outsider abuse. Right now, judges use their discretion to let off molesters from within family with shorter sentences. So merely increasing punishment on paper or increasing number of women in the force, as the minister has suggested, is no solution. New laws that recognise various issues around child abuse are need of the hour. International police is worried that India has become a paedophile hub. It is easy to pull our children into international porn racket because we have no laws. Even if the paedophilia racket hasn't reached middle and upper class homes yet, it has certainly reached every street kid.

But laws apart, to encourage reporting of abuse, we need a child protection court. That only means the child doesn't go to a kacheri. He goes to any normal room where there are toys, the judge sits casually, not behind a bench. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the child's testimony is taken down only once on video. The perpetrator is not present in the room. All this doesn't take any extra money. It takes political will and parental demand.

How can laws help if mindsets don't change?
Child sexual abuse is never going to cease, until the adult in a position of power realises that responsibility is not about abuse. We need adult awareness of boundaries especially when it comes to the child. Who puts these boundaries: families. Families protect their children. But the ignorance is such that you teach children to cross the road but you're not teaching them to protect themselves from anything else.

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