Fighting Child Sexual Abuse: Be Sure to Know the Age of Your Date
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: iStock / Altered by The Quint)

Fighting Child Sexual Abuse: Be Sure to Know the Age of Your Date

Child sexual abuse is an epidemic in this country. Children across sex and gender are vulnerable. The abuser is usually a man. However, whenever a girl child is abused by a man, you don’t read headlines that brand all heterosexuals as abusers, but when a boy is abused by a man, we stand the danger of all queer men being seen as pedophiles or predators.

I speak of this now, as there is a recent case of a minor complainant in his late teens, who confessed that he had sex with a man who is over three times his age.

The mother of this boy was notably aghast and filed a police complaint. The police rightfully registered a complaint under Section 377. Having said that, this case needs more nuance, and discussion.

Also Read : Child sexual abuse: Working towards a solution

What the Law Says

Section 377 was read down by the Supreme Court of India on 6 September, to make all kinds of consensual sex between “adults” legal. But it still considers sex with minors as a crime. A minor is defined as anyone who is below the age of 18.

POCSO or the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, protects children against all kinds of sexual abuse. Children of all genders are protected under this act. There is a clause in POCSO that makes it even a criminal offence to not report a case of child sexual abuse that’s in your knowledge.

Regardless of whether the child survivor complains or not, or whether the child declares the act to be ‘consensual’, the words of a minor are immaterial.

Under POCSO and Section 377, the adult is still liable for prosecution. Be it homosexual or heterosexual sex, or non-cis gendered sexual relationships, be sure that you are certain about the age of your partner. Do not engage in sexual encounters if you are skeptical about their age. Under POCSO, even sexting, sending nudes to minors and even encouraging minors to send nudes to you is considered a crime. You don’t necessarily need to have had (physical) sexual contact.

Also Read : Govt Moves to Allow Survivors to Report Child Sexual Abuse till 25

Who is Accountable?

I strongly believe it is the responsibility of the dating platform (in this case, Grindr) to hold accountability and coordinate with the police to trap pedophiles. When it comes to apps that primarily cater to queer persons, there is an argument by some of my fellow LGBTQ+ friends, that bigoted governments and police officials in certain countries could misuse this to invade the privacy of queer men using the platform. Remember, homosexuality is still considered a crime in many countries. And in India, even post the decriminalisation of homosexual sex between consenting adults, there are many who continue to fear stepping out of the closet. Societal prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community may take a lifetime to cure.

Grindr (a dating app for queer men) aside, ANY dating platform could have child sexual abusers. How many sites are we going to ban?

Right from the time of Yahoo chat over two decades ago where we had ‘adult chat rooms’, I have spotted men looking for ‘pre-teen girls’. Dating platforms could be dens for child sexual abusers and also in some cases, child traffickers.

If you notice an adult explicitly offering services for sex with a minor, or seeking sex with even ‘consenting’ minors – please immediately take a screenshot and write to the respective cyber cell in your area. It is our moral and social responsibility, and legal accountability under POCSO, to report. In 2013, I had spotted an abuser on Facebook, who was passing on a 14-year-old to other predators. I promptly reported and the police followed up.

If someone inadvertently end up having sex with a minor, they still won’t be exempted under the law. The law doesn’t have grey areas. If the minor or any other adult complains, you will be in a legal mess. So be completely aware of this. This issue commonly arises when the sexual contact is between someone who has just turned an adult, with someone who is going to turn one soon. For example, an 18-year-old, with a 17-year-old. Be careful. Very careful.

Listen, and Educate

While it is true that minors legally cannot consent to sexual acts, the truth is that minors do engage sexually with their peers and also sometimes with adults. If you spot your child in a sexual relationship or walk in on them – do not freak out.

First, don’t confront, don’t shame, don’t threaten. Talk about it with your child later, in private, in a sensible manner.

Consensual sex is not a bad thing, neither is it a sin. While exploring is natural, abuse should be shunned. Understand the gravity of the situation. Take the age of your child, the age gap with the person they are engaging with into consideration, and the potential for manipulation of the minor in that situation. Determine if the child has been lured or coerced into the activity.

If the issue concerns a sexual conversation between a minor and an adult, please discuss the nature of the relationship and the interaction with the either one of them, preferably the minor, or with both partners. Legal options are available, but the first step should be a conversation.

Go to a counselor, educate yourself. More often than not, it is the parents who first need counselling before sending their children for it.

Children deserve to know about responsible sexual behaviour from their parents and teachers. Tell children about both consensual pleasure and predatory behaviour, and the possibilities of manipulation. Explain consent to them. Do not assume that children won’t explore their sexuality, neither should you assume that all children would refrain from sexual intercourse and activity until the age of 18.

Even today, Indian parents don’t want to think that their children have sexual urges, and children too feel odd to imagine that their parents have sex. This mindset needs to change.

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, women, children and animals. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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