Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse in India: Are we ready for it? – By Uma Subramanian
“I asked my students in Grade IV to write an essay on ‘What is that one thing which scares you the most?’. A student wrote about her father’s best friend. She wrote that he does something to her in the absence of her parents and she does not like it, she is scared of him. She vaguely mentioned that she was being sexually abused.”
This story was narrated to me by a schoolteacher who met me during one of my workshops on the prevention of child sexual abuse held as part of the Break the Silence Campaign.
What would we do, each one of us, if we discovered that a child in the neighborhood, in our class or in our own family was being sexually abused by someone trusted?
Most of us might try and solve the matter internally within the family, the school or the neighborhood. Some of us might turn a blind eye since sexual abuse is a subject that makes many of us uncomfortable. Very few of us would think about reporting the case to the nearest police station. Going to a police station is not the accepted norm in India and carries a burden of shame.
But the new law on The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences says we cannot solve child sex abuse cases by ourselves and mandates that these must be reported to the police. This might make life a bit uncomfortable for some of us.
Section 20 & 21 of the new law states that any person who fails to report a sexual offence against a child shall be punished with imprisonment of up to six months and/or be subject to a fine. The punishment is higher if the person is in charge of a company or an institution, for people who serve in trusted positions.
Worldwide, mandatory reporting of child abuse (which includes child sexual abuse) has been instrumental in drawing attention to the problem of child maltreatment and has been heralded as a triumph in protecting children. India is following the steps of most developing countries, where Mandatory reporting is the norm and considered to be one of the most important strategies to prevent child sexual abuse.
While there is no concrete data on the number of children sexually abused in India, a report in 2007 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on Child Abuse in India gave a rough estimate. In all, 12,500 children were surveyed across 13 states in the country and 53.22% reported one or more forms of sexual abuse. Interestingly, the percentage of boys reporting abuse was higher than that of girls. Children on the streets, at work and in institutional care reported the highest incidences of sexual assault. The survey also showed that 50% of abusers were known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. Most children had not reported the matter to anyone.
But are we ready for mandatory reporting?