Hyderabad: The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act considers all citizens mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. As such, if a citizen fails to report a known case of child abuse or neglect she or he is liable to punishment of imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine, or both. The public can call the child helpline on 1098 to report the incidents.
National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016 reports 1,278 cases of women and child rape, but this is just a fraction of the incidents as most are never reported.
Swati Lakra, Additional Commissioner of Hyderabad Police, says currently the child helpline only receives six to seven calls per day.
“These calls however include incidents of begging, child labour, missing children and child marriages and are not specific to rape or child sexual abuse. During the initiation of the Muskaan Operation, the helpline saw an increase of 10 to 15 calls per day,” Ms Lakra said.
In 2017 only 341 POCSO cases were reported to the Hyderabad City Police.
In most cases of child abuse the perpetrators are members of the child's family or known to the family, and children therefore hesitate to speak out about the abuse. However, Section 19 of the POCSO Act states that any person, including a child, who has knowledge or apprehension of any violations of the Act must report the same to the concerned authorities as well as the local law enforcement agencies.
“Often times, children confide in their wardens or teachers about an incident of abuse, be it sexual or abusive, and the same is overlooked. It is essential to ensure that any report or any inclination for doubt in regard to a child's well being should be reported. Otherwise there will be no end to the vicious cycle of child abuse. From teachers to family members everyone is a mandatory reporter and holds the responsibility of ending and preventing child abuse. Failure to report such suspicions or incidents is now punishable under the POCSO Act with imprisonment and fines, depending on the type of case,” Ms Lakra said.
Dr Purnima Nagaraj, consultant psychiatrist, Dhrithi Clinic, says children often “normalise abuse mistaking it to be love, especially children who hail from verbally abusive homes, so they don't verbalise their plight.”
She says there are signs that a child is in an abusive situation, which parents and teachers should be aware of.
“Classic signs of abuse are mood changes, wherein children may often be overtly happy instead of sad and depressed. The child may not like being touched, or hides from certain known people despite the adult being a known member of the family. Expressive in nature, children will often begin to draw explicit pictures, or play explicit games with toys showcasing a sensual explicit knowledge and language otherwise not customary for their age. Scholastic backwardness, bed wetting and changes in eating patterns are also signs of some internal struggle consistent with abuse,” Ms Nagaraj says.
Recognising some of these tell-tale signs and encouraging the child to talk can reveal if he or she is a victim of on-going sexual abuse....