If your child has been sexually abused, law provides a remedy. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (‘Act’) provides a remedy for cases of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA).
Who is protected under the Act? This Act protects any child younger than eighteen years of age;
Therefore, the law is framed in gender-neutral terms.
What acts are punishable? Under the Act, various degrees of punishment have been accorded to some major offenses, namely
Aggravated sexual assault,
Penetrative sexual assault, and
Aggravated penetrative sexual assault (in increasing order of severity).
Thus, while sexual harassment has been broadly defined to include speaking with sexual intent, following the child and showing the child any object for pornographic purposes amongst other acts, sexual assault would require physical contact of a sexual nature. The penetrative sexual assault would be any situation where the anus, vagina or mouth of a child in penetrated, whether by the offender, at his instigation or by any object. The aggravated forms of assault would include occurrences where a person in a position of trust or authority over a child has assaulted a child. For example, if you believe that your child's teacher or doctor has committed sexual assault upon your child, the relevant offense would be one of aggravated sexual assault.
Other offences include
Use of child for pornographic purposes
Abetment or attempt to commit an offense
If you believe that someone has committed either of the above-mentioned offenses, the Act accords you a remedy.
What should be done if there is an assault?
If you believe that there has been an assault on a child, the Act mandates reporting of this. That means, if anyone gets to know of CSA but has not reported the same, he may be punished with imprisonment. However, if you report an instance that later is discovered to be false, then you will not be liable if your report was made in good faith.
Therefore, the first step is to report the instance to the police, or to the Special Juvenile Provisions Unit.
The Act has provisions for the care of the child where necessary.
Within a span of 24 hours, the police would report the matter to a committee known as the child welfare committee and the relevant court (While provisions have been made for a special court solely for reports under this Act, there may be cases where the court has not been designated. Then, the relevant court would be the Sessions court). The Court will then decide your dispute and give you a remedy if the case is decided in your favor.
What punishment can be given?
For the offenses mentioned above, the quantum of punishment ranges from one year in prison to life imprisonment. The judge will decide, on the basis of the Act, what is the punishment accorded to the offender. In cases of CSA, the judges often take a very strict stance and give a severe punishment to deter the offender from repeating his actions. Further, your child may be awarded some compensation to be used for medical treatment and/or rehabilitation.
How do I know that this is the best course of action for my child?
The Act has several beneficial provisions that will make it easier for you and your child to approach the court. For example, the Act provides for an in camera trial, which means that no one who is not related to the case may witness the proceedings. Further, the offender will be kept out of eyesight of the child, and the judge will speak to the child informally, to keep her at ease. Further, you or another guardian will be allowed to stay with the child at all times. Thus, the entire judicial procedure is geared towards a child-friendly atmosphere.
If you are worried that society might later judge or stigmatize your child, you should be aware that the Act doesn't allow anyone to disclose your child's name. Thus, the entire process may be conducted in anonymity, if you so choose.
However, CSA is an endemic problem in India. Parents are so worried that a stigma will be attached to their child that they do not often approach the Courts for a remedy. Thus, children are deprived of a resolution, and offenders get away scot-free. Though you may be worried about approaching the police, know that a judicial pronouncement will ultimately be the most beneficial solution.
1. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
2. Lawfarm, An Analysis of the Law for the Protection of Juveniles from Sexual Offences, available at http://www.lawfarm.in/blog/an-analysis-of-the-law-for-the-protection-of-juveniles-from-sexual-offences?locale=in.
3. Image Source: Youth Ki Awaaz, Undergoing Sexual Abuse As A Child Can Haunt Survivors All Their Life: Time For Change, available at http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/08/child-sexual-abuse-survivors/
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