For Child Rape Survivors, Justice Doesn’t Always Lie in the Courts
Counselling for the child survivor and the family is essential. But these services often fall through the cracks.
On 14 August 2016, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl was raped in Mumbai. A week later on 21 August, an 11-month-old child was sexually assaulted in Agra. A day later, a 10-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in Delhi.
When tracking rapes reported every day, a trend that emerges is sexual assault against children (defined by the law as those below 18 years of age). Legally, such offences are registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. But legal recourse apart, there are a host of interventions (like psycho-social counselling and financial support) which are necessary for a child survivor of rape.
And in many cases of reported sexual violence, it is these extra-legal interventions which prove to be more important, and also the ones which fall through the cracks of our criminal justice system.
Far From the Gavel, A Healing Touch
I remember this child who was left at home with a caretaker and after a while, the baby became cranky and refused to eat. The family installed webcams in the house and discovered that the caretaker was orally penetrating the child with his penis. However young the child is, there is going to be behavioural manifestation of the trauma.Vidya Reddy, Excutive Director, Tulir
For a child survivor of sexual assault, the family is the first hurdle in a skeptical society. Since the trauma of sexual violence is not always manifested outwardly, psycho-social support like counselling is of utmost importance. For the survivor, as well as for the family.
The family, unfortunately, is the first place where ‘victimisation’ of a survivor of sexual assault is observed. More so when the survivor is a child. In some cases, rape is reported within the family by a child, by known persons. Which is why activists working with child survivors repeatedly emphasise a more complete idea of counselling, involving the family as well as the child.
But is our criminal justice system making space for extra-legal interventions and recognising its importance?
Well, we’re getting there. That’s what Vidya Reddy, Executive Director of Tulir – an NGO which works on prevention and healing of child sexual abuse – believes.
We have to understand that the system looks at child sexual assault from a very ‘legal’ point of view, relying on testimonies and medical evidence. Not from a socio-psychological point of view, where trauma from sexual violence is delayed. But we’re becoming better; compared to ten years ago, the situation is improving.Vidya Reddy, Executive Director, Tulir
What Is the POCSO Act?
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences, Act (POCSO Act) 2012 is a law which deals with sexual abuse and exploitation of children. For any sexual assault (including rape) reported against a minor, this is the Act under which a case is filed.
POCSO includes penetrative sexual as well as sexual assault, including exposure to pornography and sexual harassment as well. Furthermore, the Act mandates that the police be responsible for the child’s protection and has provisions for a child-friendly court.
The Difference Between ‘Sexual Assault’ and ‘Rape’
Sexual assault and rape are different, and the difference is crucial when looking at child survivors of rape. ‘Rape’ is both a legal term and a descriptor. After amendments to the law in 2013, the act of rape is defined as an act of penetration; the penis or any other object into the anus, vagina or urethra of a woman.
‘Sexual assault’ on the other hand, is a broader term which also includes kissing without consent, sexual harassment and pornography.
As mentioned above, POCSO Act covers both sexual assault as well as penetrative sexual assault. In the case of a child survivor of rape, even though there is penetration, the offence is charged under the POCSO Act.
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