Monday, November 16, 2015

The Dark Side of Life

Child sex abuse is still a scourge in Indian society. But new laws and proactive moves are helping victims, albeit in a small way

Photo of Dr. Jagadeesh N by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, a mother took her 14-year-old daughter to a government hospital in Mumbai. The girl had been made pregnant by an uncle. It was a case of sexual abuse. Doctor Hiten Manjrekar (name changed) knew that if he did an abortion in a public hospital, it will be known to everybody. So he told the family to come to his clinic, where he promised to do the operation free-of-cost. At night, Manjrekar did the termination of pregnancy. However, the doctor did not do the mandatory reporting to the police.

Later, Manjrekar gave the foetus to the family and asked them to dispose it off. “That is because the foetus is difficult to get rid of, in Mumbai,” says the Bangalore-based Dr. Jagadeesh N, an expert on child abuse. “Bio-medical waste management rules are very strict.”

The family members stopped at a deserted road and were throwing the foetus into a gutter, when a mobile police van spotted the activity. “When the police discovered that it was a female foetus, they assumed it was a case of foeticide,” says Jagadeesh.

After interrogating the mother, the next day, they went to the hospital and met Manjrekar. “The doctor was asked why he did not do mandatory reporting and arrange for the proper disposal of the foetus,” says Jagadeesh. “And then the police discovered that the papers were made in the name of the girl's mother. So, Manjrekar was slapped with the additional charge of forgery. In a way, the doctor wanted to help the girl, but it backfired. This is an important lesson. One must always act legally and scientifically.”

Jagadeesh had come to Kochi recently to give a day-long series of talks.
In 2012, the landmark Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act was formulated, in order to effectively address sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Thereafter, there have been amendments. And Jagadeesh wanted to inform stakeholders, like police officers, lawyers and doctors, about medico-legal updates at a seminar conducted by the NGO, Bodhini.

Now, a doctor can examine a victim without permission from the police,” he says. “This is a major change. In the past, the victim had to initially go to the police station. Earlier, we were looking for evidence collection. But today treatment is a priority. Earlier, only government hospitals dealt with the victim, but now, any hospital can do so. There are uniform nation-wide guidelines issued by the Health Ministry.”

Today, the law also recognises that treatment is a must. “Even though there are no physical injuries, every case of abuse has a psychological impact,” says Jagadeesh. “That is why counselling is necessary. And it should be done on a long-term basis. That is the only way a child can resume a normal life again.”

Unfortunately, child sex abuse is still a major scourge. “It happens across all strata of society,” says Jagadeesh. “The maximum number of cases has been reported in the 10-18 year age group. In the upper classes, these cases are not reported, because people fear society's condemnation.”

Incidentally, the perpetrators, as is well known, are people who are close to the child. They include parents, uncles, teachers and family friends.

The perpetrator does not sexually abuse everyone,” says Jagadeesh. “He will select a victim who is incapable of fighting back. For example, in domestic violence, the husband will beat his wife and not another man's wife.”

Asked as to why they do it, Jagadeesh says, “When sexual urges arise, the perpetrator tries to find whoever is available and vulnerable. He does not think that he is doing something wrong. Or that he will be punished. On the other hand, because he is in the grip of his perversion, he feels powerful.”

Meanwhile, Jagadeesh says that sex education should be imparted in all schools, be it private or government-run. “This should be done in a graded manner, at a primary, high-school and college level, so that there is an age-appropriate method to impart knowledge. Unfortunately, children are learning from wrong sources, like pornography on the Internet.”

But some remedial measures are in place. All Central Board of Secondary Education schools in the country are teaching students about good and bad touches. “Children are being taught that they can be touched in certain areas, and not in others,” says Jagadeesh. “Who are the people who can touch a child on the genitals? They include the mother, or a health-care provider, who is touching for a therapeutic reason. But he or she has to do it in the presence of the parents. If there is a bad touch, the child should immediately say no.”

And learn to get out of the situation. “The child can scream,” says Jagadeesh. “Or run to a public space. If a youngster can get away from the attacker into a public space, then it becomes safe for the child. Children should also tell their parents about bad touches, as soon as they occur.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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