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Child Abuse: Tackling The Social Malady
|by Dr. Deepak Pawar|
The scourge of child abuse has been in existence, unseen and unspoken since ages in our country. While the general reluctance to converse about such a grim subject may perhaps be understandable, the level of ignorance exhibited by the vast majority about this issue is beyond belief. It is only now, thanks to the efforts of a few well-meaning voluntary agencies and individuals, that the eyes are being opened and forced to see the stark reality.
Actually, in a country as vast as ours, and with the scale of existential problems so huge, coupled with apparently insurmountable issues such as socioeconomic depravity, inequality and discrimination, it is not surprising that this problem was allowed to fester for so long. This probably explains why we come across those horrifying cases reported in the media occasionally of children so battered that they are battling for life, or of raids conducted in some shady orphanages, which were utilising children as sex slaves on the sly.
For the record, abuse could be categorised as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. Physical abuse involves hitting or bashing up a child and includes the battered baby syndrome. In sexual abuse, the perpetrator uses the child for his or her own sexual gratification. Emotional abuse pertains to unnecessary victimisation of the child, odious comparisons with other children based on looks or performance and blaming the child for every little crisis that may befall the family. Neglect involves not taking care of the child when in need, such as during illness or when the child is hungry.
Whatever the type of abuse, it is ill reported, under-detected and not enough is being done to prevent it in the first place. It is all too common for a child to be smacked once or twice, sometimes severely, in the name of punishment or discipline, both at home and in school. There have been umpteen numbers of cases of corporal punishment gone horribly wrong that have been reported in the media. Emotional abuse is a lot more subtle and difficult to detect. Of all the types, it is sexual abuse that is perhaps the most disturbing and the one that has a devastating consequence on the mind of the victim in the later years.
Often, it is said, the alleged perpetrator in sexual abuse is already well known to the family. In fact, it is one of those paradoxes wherein the safety of the child is jeopardised by that very individual who is supposed to be a well-wisher of the family. There have been several instances where the abuse went on, unnoticed, under the very nose of the parents. Abusers go to great lengths to avoid discovery, such as enticing the child with goodies, making secret pacts with children and threatening the child of dire consequence should he or she report it to anybody. You can imagine the effect that this might have on a young mind, which has already been vilified by the heinous sexual acts carried out on the child’s body, at an age when the child has no knowledge whatsoever about these matters.
Unfortunately, even when the child plucks up enough courage to report it to a trusted elder, it may go no further than the confines of the immediate family, owing to the ‘good nature’ of the perpetrator, who is externally cunningly well-mannered. On the other hand, even more horribly, even if believed, the child’s complaint is not reported to appropriate authorities to prevent the loss of ‘family honour’. In either case, the child loses out badly, suffering what is surely a double indemnity- ravaged by the abuser and betrayed by those whose responsibility it is to protect her. The perpetrator, on the other hand, gets away scot-free and continues in his merry way, moving on to newer, greener pastures. This explains why there have been horrifying cases of serial abusers of children who end up in various child-centred professions such as teaching, child-care and orphanages, often moving from one part of the country to another, undetected.
The effects of child abuse, especially sexual, can be far-reaching. The scar left on the young mind may be indelible and result in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low confidence, or personality disorders. Fortunately, contrary to popular belief, many victims of child abuse have taken to volunteering for the cause, instead of turning into abusers themselves.
The children on the streets are perhaps the most vulnerable of them all, who are exposed to discrimination and exploitation from multiple sources. Migrant children, or those dwelling in urban slums take to begging, peddling inanities at traffic junctions, working in garment factories, hotels or as labourers. Living on the fringes of society as they are, these children are targeted by a host of adversaries such as pimps, traffickers, paedophiles, employers, public, and even law-enforcement agents. Is it not a common sight to see a woman carrying a child (allegedly borrowed), while begging near traffic junctions? It is easy to ignore that this too is a form of child abuse. Look around the next time you go to a hotel; the boy who comes to clean your table, in all likelihood, may not be a day older than 13. This is child labour and is tantamount to abuse.
Assuming a hypothetical situation, wherein the child has disclosed abuse to very trusting parents, who have promptly reported the crime to the authorities, who have taken further measures, it has been extremely difficult to effectively prosecute the perpetrator, who has escaped punishment blatantly. Up until May 2012, there was no legal provision to bring the perpetrator to justice effectively. Finally, with the Lok Sabha having passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, it is hoped that an ancient lacuna would now be filled.
You may have the most stringent and well-intentioned laws, but without community participation all these amount to nothing. Tackling child abuse is the business of the whole community, a collective responsibility that we all have to share. Here is some of an otherwise comprehensive list of measures that we could undertake:
Child abuse is a scourge, which needs to be constantly monitored, dealt with, and suppressed, if not totally eradicated. If we are serious about our chances of spearheading our country as a socially responsible developed nation, then the most vulnerable members of its society: the deprived, destitute and the children need to be protected at all costs.
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06/21/2012 09:52 AM
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