Shedding Light on Child Rights in the context of Child Abuse in India – A Socio-Legal Analysis

Child Trafficking

Maltreatment and abuse of children is a grave offense that needs strict measures for prevention and redressal. This said child abuse can occur in various ways; physically, sexually, or psychologically. Further, it is usually carried out by a parent or caregiver in any institution be it home, school, community centers, etc. Now, the abuse and maltreatment of the term are used together and interchangeably but there is a case to be made that abuse usually is much graver. Maltreatment could include neglect and acts of omission as well while abuse does not. Regardless of the difference, abuse or maltreatment is a huge vice that is condemned by every jurisdiction and law in the world. The stance might change on what constitutes abuse and so on, but the overall sentiment remains relatively constant. The situation is no different in India with laws being framed to protect child rights and to prevent abuse.

Before discussing child abuse, in particular, it is essential to understand child rights broadly in the context of India. At present, there are nearly 500 million children in India (those under the age of 18) and this constitutes nearly 40% of the total population of the country. 

Further, the number of children between the ages of 0 and 6 constitute nearly 30%. This huge strength when combined with the big rural population leads to issues of nutrition, healthcare, and so on. A lack of proper application of laws leaves children susceptible to abuse. Problems of child labor have been rampant for quite some time and while the situation is being addressed, there is still a lot that remains to be done in this sphere. The government appointed a commission in 2005 to formulate and introduce a statute for the protection of children’s rights. It operates to ensure that India promotes child rights on a priority basis. However, application and execution do remain a problem that needs to be looked into.

Child Abuse and Child Rights – Laws for Protection and Prevention

Child Rights

There are a plethora of provisions in Indian law where children’s rights and protection from abuse come into play. For example, the Indian Penal Code has provisions addressing just children such as Section 317 which prescribes punishments for abandonment of a child. Similarly, Section 366A, 372, and 373 talks of punishments relating to sexual crimes against girl children. Further, there have been amendments in recent times that have all looked at aggravating punishments for the aforementioned crimes. For example, an amendment in 2013 increased the punishment for the rape of girl children. In addition to general acts and statutes, there exist specific statutes such as Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, and so on to improve, safeguard and protect the rights and lives of children in India. 

Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, or POCSO as it is commonly known is one of India’s most progressive laws. It contains within it significant important provisions that can aid in combatting sexual offenses against children. The position of child sexual abuse before the Act was passed was one characterized by a lack of clarity and inadequacy. The Act defines various offenses such as sexual assault, harassment, pornography, etc, and prescribes punishments for the same.  It aims at serving the best interests of children who get affected to ensure that their future does not get affected in any way.

Despite the increased clarity in procedures and steps taken towards identity preservation, the POCSO does suffer from a few drawbacks such as contentious definitions of ‘child’ and does not answer all the questions concerning consent and mandatory reporting of incidents. As a whole, however, POCSO is an effective statute that seeks to preserve children’s rights in the best way possible. Yet another statute that plays a pivotal role in safeguarding child rights is the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. This Act seeks to provide adequate care to children who face difficulties such as abandonment or are orphans with no identifiable family. The Act also ensures that children are not punished in any way by the law, unless necessary. 

Alarming trends and the need to protect children from abuse

The need to protect children in India from abuse is hammered home by various alarming trends and statistics. In a study that was conducted in 2007, it was revealed that as many as 65% of children in India are victims of maltreatment of some kind including abuse at home. Out of these, nearly an equal percentage of these acts are committed by people who are close and share a familial or friendly relationship with the child. Apart from at home, as many as 60% of children are victims of maltreatment at schools in India. These trends can have various factors influencing them, chief among them being the fact that children’s opinions and words are not usually held in good esteem. This is also the cause for several such crimes being covered up by the victim’s family and going unreported. This extends to incidents of abuse as well. 

The study further reveals that every 15 minutes in India, a child is abused. When it comes to sexual abuse, 40% of the cases are reported as having been committed by persons with pedophilia and the remaining 60% by those with no sexual preference. Various social and economic factors could likely be attributed as contributive causes leading to such alarming rates of child abuse in India. Poor social status, deaths, place of birth and the like can all be influences that contribute to the pitiful state of child abuse in India. Unfortunately, those that have experienced abuse as a child are likely to be drawn towards places with unregulated sexual activity the study shows.

What can be done?

There is a lot of work to be done in India regarding the protection of child rights. Despite the POCSO and the work of organizations like the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), there are plenty of problems to deal with. Even as legal frameworks which are adequate on paper exist, the socio-economic situation and the implementation of these frameworks remain challenging. Large sections of children continue to be deprived of their rights and are susceptible to abuse. Therefore, along with stricter enforcement of guidelines and laws, the socio-economic aspect of society must be considered.

Legal reforms continue to arrive, but socio-economic reform is the need of the hour. No matter the strength of the law, the requirement is social reform and education. In order to effectively combat this problem, it is imperative that steps are taken considering the future and wellbeing of the children alone. There must be efforts made to educate, reform, and sensitize society and all its various actors to the issue of child abuse.