May 30, 2012

The new sex code for teenagers

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Radical provisions of the new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (PCSOA) are both empowering and threatening to teenagers accustomed to mixing freely with others. The cause for concern goes beyond PCSOA criminalizing teenage sex by increasing the age of consent from 16 to 18. Teenagers would do well to know how this 'child-friendly' law could affect their lives, for better or for worse, and how different it is from the corresponding IPC provisions dealing with adults.

Rape is gender neutral for juveniles

Under IPC enacted in 1860, "A man is said to commit rape." But under PCSOA, "A person is said to commit penetrative sexual assault." This means that when it comes to adults, only women can be raped. PCSOA for the first time recognizes the possibility of a boy being raped by a girl or a woman

Definition of "penetration" has been expanded

In IPC's conception of rape, penetration is a necessary condition and it has been traditionally limited to penile vaginal intercourse. In the corresponding provision of PCSOA, the penile penetration need not be only of the vagina; it can be of the mouth, urethra or anus of the child. It also covers situations where the offender "inserts, to any extent, any object or a part of the body, not being the penis, into the vagina, urethra or anus of the child" . Equally unprecedented is the stipulation that oral sex with anybody below 18 would be treated as rape

Penalty for molestation of a child enhanced

Under IPC, any man who outrages the modesty of a woman is liable to be punished with a maximum imprisonment of two years. As a result of the public outrage over the Ruchika Girhotra case, PCSOA stipulates that any adult who molests a child shall be awarded sentences ranging from three to five years

No close-in-age reprieve for statutory rape

While increasing the age of consent from 16 to 18, PCSOA failed to provide the safeguard adopted in liberal societies of taking a lenient view of consensual sex with a minor if the age gap between the partners is within three years. The absence of such a safeguard can have draconian implications for hormonally driven teenagers

Burden of proof on the accused, not the victim

Doing away with the presumption of innocence, PCSOA states that for sexual offences committed against children, the burden of proof shall be on the accused rather than the victim. This opens up scope for abuse: for, even if the accused is a minor, the defence case will always have to be presented first during the trial

False complaint by a child not punishable

If an adult makes false allegations against somebody of committing a child sexual offence, such a person would be punished under PCSOA with imprisonment up to six months. But PCSOA exempts a child from such a liability. "Where a false complaint has been made or false information has been provided by a child, no punishment shall be imposed on such child." This means that if one teenager makes a false allegation against another, the former is statutorily protected from any liability.

May 23, 2012

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011

May 18, 2012

Please listen to them

Aamir Khan May 14, 2012 Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate has been widely appreciated by masses as well as people from film fraternity. The excited actor spoke to media after the first episode of the show was aired. One of the biggest lessons for me, in the process of researching for the issue of child sexual abuse, came when I asked our expert Dr Anuja Gupta that when children are sexually abused, why do they find it difficult to tell their parents about it. Her reply was, “Are we listening to our children? Are we even capable of listening to them?” And that indeed is the big question. What is my relationship with my child? Am I listening to my child? What do I know of what is going on in my child’s head? Do I know his/her fears, dreams and hopes? Am I even interested? Am I friends with my child? Though my generation is perhaps more communicative with our children than that of our parents — at least, that is what we would like to believe — still, how many of us are really solidly connected with our children? How many of us really have the time and bandwidth that it takes for a healthy friendship? The truth is that only if there is healthy communication, trust and friendship will your child be comfortable and fearless to share everything with you. Obviously, we pray that no child has to ever face the trauma of sexual abuse; but if that does happen, the child should feel empowered to communicate this. It is only through conversations and communication we can build the ability to share our joys and fears. When these communication lines open up between parents and children, it becomes the starting point to sort out many issues. Then if something does happen with your child, he/she will feel free to immediately come and tell you about it and you will be able to address the problem then and there. The cornerstone of open communication is also trust. Our children observe us closely. They have an innate sense of being able to gauge our responses. If we want them to speak up, we should also ensure that we let them know that they will be believed. Yes, not just heard, but believed. Children are intelligent and intuitive, and we have to instill the confidence in the child that we are sincere about listening, and that we trust the child. The other big learning came from Padma Iyer, who is Harish’s mother. If a child does report sexual abuse, very often our first thought is — how can I take action against my own family member? Family ki izzat, hamari izzat mitti mein mil jaayegi, log kya kahenge, mere bachche ke saath aisa hua, toh is baat ko chhupao. Like Padma, first we refuse to admit the possibility of it happening, and then we try to hide it. And because we have hidden it, we are unable to take action on it. Through all of this, we are thinking of others, of society. But we forget to think about our child. That child who is perhaps four, five or six years old… who has been through something most traumatic… who is reaching out to us because we are the parent… and the child can only reach out to us… what about that child? Our child has to be our primary concern, everything else must be secondary. At such a time we should only be thinking of what our child is going through, and what we need to do for the sake of our child. That’s it. At the end of this process of healing, the child has to come out stronger and healed. And we have to do everything in our power to make that happen. Also, we have to start looking at child sexual abuse as a crime, because that’s what it is. When there is a theft in your home, don’t you kick up a ruckus and say, “Hey! Somebody came into my house and stole jewellery! What’s happening? What is the security doing?” But if abuse happens in your home, we hush it up. Why are you hushing it up? Has the child done something wrong? No. So why are you hushing it up? You should shout, “How dare somebody come to my house and do this to my child.” Kick up a ruckus! That person should be behind bars. Even the law enforcers need to really take this seriously. And above all… the child needs to know how much his/her safety and security means to you. I have already mentioned on the show that the Indian Parliament is working on a Bill regarding child sexual abuse and we look forward to a strong, effective, and well-implemented law for the protection of our children against sexual abuse. And we hope it happens soon. I’d like to leave you with a thought: perhaps the more closed or narrow minded we are about sexuality, the more repressed it gets, and then it manifests itself in ugly ways. I’m hoping that as a society in time we will reach a stage where we are not frightened of our sexuality. Rather, we learn to deal with it in a dignified, open, responsible and healthy manner. Satyamev Jayate! Aamir Khan's column will appear every Monday The views expressed by the author are personal

May 2, 2012

Should India Raise Age of Sexual Consent?

(The Wall Street Jounal - 27th April, 2012)

India’s Cabinet late Thursday okayed an amended bill aimed at combating sexual abuse of children, a move that could go a long way to address the widespread problem.

But activists, while generally welcoming the proposed legislation, have trouble with one of its provisions: raising the age of legal sex to 18 from 16.

The move, they caution, could push parents in a conservative country to use the new law to sanction elder children’s sexual behavior. And the police may also use the law to harass couples.

“It will lead to hundreds of complaints by parents to file reports of rape even though the child had consensual sex and no crime was involved,” said Nishit Kumar, a spokesman at Childline, a toll-free helpline for street children in distress.

Pooja Taparia, founder of Mumbai-based organization “Arpan” which works in the field of child sexual abuse, agreed, saying the law is likely to be misused by both parents and police.

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