BY: Bharti Ali and Enakshi Ganguly Thukral
They must follow some protective protocols that are standard and mandatory.
On December 17, 2012, exactly a day after the Delhi gangrape case that shook the country, a three-year-old girl was taken to the toilet of her play school in Delhi and raped by the owner-principal’s husband. She is not the only child violated in a space considered to be the safest space for children after their homes — the school. This ugly reality has come to light once again with a six-year-old being sexually abused in a school in Bangalore. Every report specified that it took place at an “elite school”, as if such incidents only take place among the poor and this was new. The reality is that child sexual abuse cuts across class, religion, education or ethnicity. It can happen anywhere, including within families. It is imperative that we recognise this and put checks and balances in place.
It is not as if sexual abuse in schools is a new phenomenon. If we look back at our own school days, there was likely a member of the staff who made us uncomfortable. Our discomfort was unaddressed then and this is the case even today, due to a conspiracy of silence around sexual violence and abuse. Abuse is reported even less in the case of schools because of the power relations between educational institutions and students, more so if the parents are poor and illiterate. So we must welcome that some parents are coming out to complain.
It is not easy for parents and children to find the courage to complain, given the cycle of violence they face. Many child survivors and their families are asked by landlords to vacate their homes. Instead of cooperating with children and helping them cope with the trauma, children are subtly pushed out of school. Changing schools is even harder. Traumatised by the abuse, most survivors fall behind in academics, making admission to another school difficult unless the principal is apprised of the circumstances and admission sought on sympathetic grounds, hoping confidentiality will be respected. The system of investigation and judicial process expects the child to recollect and repeat the sequence of events several times, leading to re-victimisation. Little surprise then that parents and child victims choose to keep quiet.
Despite new laws and stringent punishment, there is an increase in sexual crime and little deterrence. For instance, two years on, the December 17 case is still to be decided. We are told that the courts set up under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) are “special courts”, while those under the criminal amendment act of 2012 continued…