October 8, 2010

Times of India

Suffer the Children

The most shocking part of Delhi's recent case of child abuse over a period of 18 months a school van driver repeatedly drugged, raped and sodomised three children aged between seven and 12 entrusted in his care is the swiftness with which it has been erased from public memory. Distracted by the ongoing violence in Kashmir, and the skeletons falling out of the closet of the CWG, the media seem to have lost interest in the case.

There have been few follow-up stories, barring a couple which said that the police were allegedly reluctant to pursue the case as some senior classmates of the victims, who were accomplices in the crime, are said to belong to so-called 'well-connected' families. Media indifference apart, there appears to be a general public reluctance to confront the entire issue of child abuse, the most repugnant and unforgivable of crimes, more so even than murder or rape. In this particular case, the unspeakable torment that the children suffered went on unnoticed for a year and a half till, finally, a suspicious mother, noticing the strange and withdrawn behaviour of the children, and the marks on their arms where they had been injected with drugs to make them more compliant, told a neighbour who, in turn, alerted the police.

Even as the Catholic church, in Ireland and elsewhere, has been shaken to its roots by the exposure of widespread paedophilia amongst its clergy and subsequent attempts to cover up such incidents in India we seem deliberately to look away from this most shameful of perversions, the corruption of innocence. These things happen in other places; they don't happen here, in our country, in our culture. Mohandas Gandhi's recorded practice of sharing his bed with nubile girls in order to test his ability to overcome physical arousal? That was an experiment in truth, not child abuse, no matter what psychological and emotional effects this may have had on those who were so experimented upon.

Gandhi's experiments with truth while being violative of current norms of child protection, at least as practised in other countries did not constitute paedophilia. But to believe that paedophilia, the physical defilement of children, does not occur in India, or is very rare, would be a dangerous delusion. Reviewing Mira Nair's film, Monsoon Wedding, a Delhi-based film critic took exception to the character who had sexually abused his niece when she was a child, saying that this was an un-Indian anomaly.

As Pinki Virani's unflinching testimony, Bitter Chocolate, reveals, far from being an anomaly, child abuse is horrifyingly common in India. Though the joint family system may have become outmoded, cramped quarters are frequently shared by adults and children, often breeding unhealthy proximity. The practice of leaving children with domestic help increasingly common in a milieu where both husband and wife are working can also lead to abusive practices.

Some commentators have pointed out that the issue of child abuse has been overplayed in the West, with people being coaxed by motivated researchers to concoct false 'memories' of being victims of sexual predation when they were children. But if this most destructive of social diseases has indeed been overplayed in the West, it has been criminally underplayed in India. Sexual abuse apart, India's children are victims of economic necessity which compels them to do hard manual labour, often in hazardous and brutal conditions, in order to survive. India has the Right to Education Act and it has more anti-child labour laws than any other country in the world; it also has the largest number of child workers.

We like to idolise childhood and infancy. But despite all our sentimentalism, Bal Krishna would have a sorry time of it in 21st century India.

Hindustan Times


A boy of Class VIII in Kolkata committed suicide after he was caned by his principal and humiliated in front of schoolmates. The principal was arrested on Monday on charges of suicide abetment but the police within hours changed his offence to ‘assault’. He is out on bail. A 17-year-old girl in Hyderabad endured months of sexual harassment by her 50-year-old school principal who had managed to procure nude pictures of her.

She eventually decided enough was enough and revealed her story to the media in the hope that more did not suffer the same ordeal.

An 11-year-old boy was sodomised by two of his schoolmates in Delhi.

Sexual abuse and corporal punishment are a daily reality for many school students around the country. And they don’t just cause distress — such harassment can have a lifelong psychological, health and educational impact.

“Such incidents can cause trauma and pain that can last for their entire lives,” senior psychiatrist Jitender Nagpal says.

Even children who don’t experience harassment themselves but see such incidents taking place feel unsafe at school, leading to withdrawal and low self-esteem.
“I am worried whenever my son reaches home with a sad face, especially with such reports coming out every day,” said Rinku Singh, whose 12-year-old son attends a reputed school in New Delhi.

The spurt in the number of such incidents shows the government, teachers and administrators need to do more to ensure the safety of children at school.


Recognising the need for stricter laws to combat exploitation in schools, the government is planning to pass the Protection of Children from Sexual Assault Bill, 2010, in Parliament soon.

The Bill gives a broader definition of sexual abuse of children and would make such offences non-bailable. It also covers the abuse inflicted on children through the Internet, another growing concern.

The bill is gender-neutral — a first for sexual abuse — and has been delineated into five categories with differing punishments: sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, penetrative sexual assault, aggravated penetrative sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The draft law also provides for courts that are more oriented towards children to try such cases.

But instituting a law is never enough.
For instance, even though the Supreme Court banned corporal punishment a decade ago, school children are routinely rapped on the knuckles, asked to kneel down or stand for hours, caned and slapped by their teachers.

In 2006, a nodal agency called the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights was set up to look into allegations and cases relating to the safety and development of children. But few know of its existence.

A new law to prevent sexual exploitation of children will face implementational challenges such as how to make a six-year-old child complain about her abuse, or even realise she is facing abuse.


Raising the awareness of children about sexual harassment and educating them on this are things that schools need to work on.

“Laws come into effect only when the case has surfaced and it does not provide for a preventive mechanism. Also there is a lack of transparency on what happens in our schools, for which we should have an autonomous authority or an independent person from the local child development office to be present in the school, to hear the problems faced by the children,” says P.S. Sharda, a lawyer and child rights activist.

Schools say they are working on this issue.
“We regularly send circulars to our teachers to sensitise them on corporal punishment and have initiated a process which tries to see signs of agony or distress in our children and act accordingly,” says Lata Vaidyanathan, principal of Modern School, Delhi.

She adds that a counselling cell and an active parent-teacher association are also there to address such issues.

Parents feel schools need to involve them to a greater extent to curb the menace.
“The only way to stop such incidents is to give adequate representation to parents in the school management. There is also a need for a more proactive counselling department talking not just to the children but with the parents and teachers as well,” says Ashok Agarwal, president of the All India Parents Association.

“The safety of the child can be ensured only if there is harmony between the natural surrounding of the school, i.e. its infrastructure, method of study and the emotional development of the child which is generally forgotten,” says Nagpal. “This is the need of the hour.”

No comments: