A large number of cases still go unreported even if the parents, guardian or teacher is aware that a child sex abuse incident has taken place
Child Sex Abuse [CSA] at home, in the neighbourhood, at a relative’s place or in an institution (educational or otherwise) is a serious problem in Kashmir.
Other than the lack of effective socio-legal and psychological infrastructure to prevent, protect and punish CSA, even more serious issue about CSA in Kashmir is the perpetual silence and the continuous state of denial associated with the same.
A dialogue (public or private) on CSA in Kashmir is always considered an “itchy or uncomfortable” experience. Sameena Mohiddin’s research on CSA in Kashmir provides preliminary evidence to highlight the need for the Kashmiri society to acknowledge the problem because adopting silence on the same is nothing short of facilitating grave injustice.
An unfortunate result of this silence is that there is very little data to highlight the extent of the problem. However, the absence of evidence cannot be taken as an acknowledgment that the problem does not exist. Child Sex Abuse is one of the highest contributors of what is called the ‘dark figure of crime’.
The dark (or hidden) figure of crime is a term employed by criminologists and sociologists to describe the amount of unreported or undiscovered crime. This problem can be dealt only when we create spaces to talk about child sex abuse.
However, public discourse (and even private conversations) on child sex abuse in Kashmir are considered a taboo and reinforcing these taboos have kept the topic of child sex abuse away from public discussion.
CSA is an epidemic which has serious physical and psychological short-term and long-term consequences. Robert Freeman Longo, the author of Sexual Abuse in America: The Epidemic of the 21st Century observes that child sex abuse is “a social issue, a religious issue, an economic issue, an emotional issue, a political issue, a spiritual issue, a health issue, an educational issue, a racial issue, a gender issue, and more.”
Research conducted over the past decade indicates that a wide range of psychological and interpersonal problems are more prevalent among those who have been sexually abused than among individuals with no such experiences.
There is extensive literature on child sex abuse which co-relates childhood sexual abuse with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.
The Indian parliament enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 [POCSO] to deal with the issue of child sex abuse in India. Unfortunately, the same was not extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And the state government itself has failed to take any initiative in this regard.
The National Crime Records Bureau [NCRB] data for 2015 highlights the problem of child sex abuse in states other than the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Since POCSO is not operational in the State of J&K, NCRB does not collect any data from Kashmir.
However, CSA being a global phenomenon, it would be intellectually impotent to assume that it does not exist in Kashmir.
According to the NCRB data for 2015, a total of 8800 cases were reported under the POCSO Act. This data is related to the offences of penetrative sexual assault and aggravated penetrative sexual assault as provided in section 4 and 6 of the POCSO Act, 2012.
In 8341 of these 8800 cases the offenders were known to the victim. And out of these 8341 cases, around 138 cases were incest cases (those cases in which the offender is blood relative like grandfather, father, brother, son etc.), 210 cases involved close family member other than incest cases and 581 involved family members other than those who fell in the first two category. 3149 cases involved offenders who were neighbours.
Moreover, as far as the victims are concerned, 306 were below the age of 06 years, 1008 were between 06 and 12, 3405 between 12 and 16 and 4114 between 16 and 18.
Children are developmentally unprepared to know how to explain sex, let alone sexual violence or abuse. In most of the cases, the reason why the victims of child sex abuse do not talk is because they do not even know that what is happening to them is illegal or immoral or bad for them.
In a large number of cases, the trust-relationship shared by the victim and the offender convinces the victim to look at incidents of abuse in a positive light, and to consider the same as something beneficial for them.
Therefore, it would be catastrophically wrong on part of the parents, or guardian or the teachers to assume that just because the children don’t talk about it, the problem does not exist.
Moreover, a large number of cases still go unreported even if the parents or the guardian or the teacher is aware that a child sex abuse incident has taken place. This is done to protect the honour and reputation of the family.
Also, cases of child sex abuse in the institutions like schools and orphanages rarely come to light because these institutions also have to protect their reputation. Who would want to associate with an institution which has a history of child sex abuse?
Jammu and Kashmir needs a law on the lines similar to POCSO. However, the state has an opportunity to create a better version of the same because while POCSO is a comprehensive law, it still has some loopholes.
For example, the definition of child only considers the biological age of the victim and not his mental age. Therefore, a person after attaining the age of 18 years will not be covered by this law even if such person continues to remain a child mentally.
And the Supreme Court of India also decided in the case of Ms. Era v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi said on 21st July 2017 that they cannot read the word “mental” into the meaning of the term child as provided in section 2(1) (d) of the POCSO Act, 2012.
While the legislation says that a Juvenile Justice Unit shall be responsible for dealing with child sex abuse cases, there is no reference to the kind of training that this unit requires in order to deal with the same. The legislation does not provide for psychological needs of a CSA victim. There is a need to make such legislation victim oriented.
Moreover, there is also a need to collect data in order to understand the extent of the problem and to provide for a data oriented solutions. There is also a need to develop an educational policy that will make CSA awareness mandatory in schools.
Such awareness has to involve all the interested parties, particularly the parents. The policy should also make it mandatory for the schools to employ full-time psychologist/psychiatrists to deal with the issue of child sex abuse. Kashmir needs a proper policy and legislation oriented approach to CSA, and it needs it now.
Author is an Assistant Professor at School of Law, University of Kashmir.