Every child is compared with a flower because of their innocence and fragility. It is said that children are the future of the nation because they grow up and contribute to the nation’s development. Imparting knowledge and wisdom from a very young age would make them grow into good human beings and responsible citizens. Though there are no fixed set of rules on how to raise a child, there are certain requirements which are to be fulfilled for the better future of a child.
Every generation differs from another in terms of a child’s growth. Societal changes, development of technology, increase in awareness are some of the factors for such variation. The impact of such changes has been positive and negative, affecting the child’s growth. Negative impact has been in the form of psychological behaviour, health issues, child abuse etc.,
Child abuse is a form of violence upon children. Treating a child with cruelty and violence repeatedly is called child abuse. It is not just limited to beating and sexual abuse but also includes neglecting, causing malnutrition and subjecting the child to unnecessary living conditions causing a mental disturbance. Based upon the violence and treatment shown on children, Child abuse is categorized into sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect and medical abuse.
It is one of the major problems faced by children nationally and internationally. It is always considered that sexual abuse is something faced by women. But in fact, it spread its toxic wings upon children too. Sexual intercourse, exposure to child pornography, genital contact etc., form a part of child sexual abuse. It does not necessarily mean acts done by touching. Voyeurism also is a kind of abuse.
“Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person. This may include but is not limited to: — the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; — the exploitative use of a child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; — the exploitative use of children in pornographic performance and materials”.
It is gut-wrenching to hear that an innocent child irrespective of gender has faced sexual abuse. Especially when the abuse is done by the immediate family members. In one case, the father was accused of raping his 13 years old daughter at home. When the abuse faced by a child goes unattended, that child suffers from emotional and psychological disturbances silently and may never overcome them. This will hinder the child’s mental growth associated with depression, anxiety, hypertension etc., never leaving them like a shadow. There have been cases which were not reported immediately even though the family members are aware of it because of the reason for damaging their reputation.
According to statistical reports, a child under 16 years of age is being raped every 155 minutes. Lately, there has been considerable awareness on child sexual abuse and suitable laws have been enacted to prohibit and punish all those who engage in such gruesome activity, in pursuance of United Nations Convention on Rights of the child, 1992.
Any abuse causing physical hurt or harm will be included in this. Childbearing physical injuries, bruises or bumps always necessarily mean physical abuse as children are tend to fall and cause self-injuries. But any pattern in the injuries associated with scared behaviour of the child may refer to unexplained physical abuse the child is going through.
Children can be physically abused in their house, school, playground etc., Children are considered to be in the safe hands if they are with their parents. But there are cases where parents physically abuse their children. Teachers in school punish the children by beating or hitting hard with a scale of a stick. School mates bully their fellow students by beating or making them go through physical pain. Physical abuse is always accompanied by emotional abuse leaving them with lifelong scars both physically and mentally. There are emergency numbers being circulated in schools and residential places these days to report any kind of physical abuse.
Neglecting the child:
When the child’s caretaker, parent or guardian fail to meet the emotional, physical, medical, and educational needs of the children, they are said to be neglecting the child. Neglecting children by not attending to their needs and not showing love and affection is also a kind of abuse. However, it depends upon the caretakers’ availability of resources to provide to the children. In a general scenario, we see a lot of stepchildren being neglected from all the above-mentioned needs due to several reasons.
This category of abuse can be treated as a part of child neglect. When a child is wrongfully diagnosed or any wrong information is given about a child being suffered from any illness resulting in unnecessary medical care putting the life of the child at risk is known as medical abuse. Abuse of this kind can be seen in children who are into sports and are given medicines for strength and stamina which might affect them in the long run.
Any act or failure to act which interferes with the mental health of a child can be termed as emotional abuse. Mistreating a child, not showing enough love and affection, not attending to the emotional requirements of the child etc., are some of the examples of emotional abuse. Mental health is crucial for every person irrespective of age and gender. Children are given utmost importance with regard to their mental health because it is one of the factors contributing to their growth and development.
There will be a direct impact on a child’s mental health if the child is suffering from emotional abuse. We come across cases where a child is seen with arrogant behaviour which is unnatural for their age. There are few movies and web series which highlighted the abuse towards children (Mardaani 2, 13 Reasons why) and the importance of a child’s mental health. It is easy to judge a child’s behaviour than to contemplate the reason behind it. Emotional abuse comes like a free package with other abuses. Whatever a child goes through physically will also affect them mentally. If any child is seen to be showing extreme behavioural patterns, it’s necessary to attend and seek expert help. A lot of Non- Governmental Organizations and Mental Wellness Centers have emerged lately to deal with mental health. With the growing awareness and changes in lifestyle, mental health is given utmost importance to everyone and children are no exception to it.
Special legislations relating to Children in India:
India has been an active member of the United Nations Organization and has attended various international conventions and signed several treaties and agreements relating to different fields. Likewise, many legislations were enacted in pursuance of such conventions and in the best interest of the people of the country in general and children in particular. A lot of Acts have been passed by the Parliament providing special care for the protection of the children of the country. The following are such legislation aiming to safeguard, protect and improve the quality of life of children.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012:
Various activities and protests carried on by several Non-Governmental Organizations and the Ministry of Women and Child development with respect to the protection of children from sexual abuse has led to the enactment of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act,2012 also known as POCSO Act. This was enacted with an objective to address and criminalize sexual abuses on children below 18 years of age and establish special courts for speedy trial of offences falling under this Act.
The salient features of this Act are:
- The definition of sexual offences has been broadly given to include every kind of obscenity towards minors.
- This Act is gender-neutral.
- It makes it mandatory to record every sexual abuse.
- The burden of proof lies on the accused.
- The Act has provided punishment for those, having the knowledge of abuse but hasn’t reported the same with the police, in turn, casting a legal duty upon everyone to ensure such cases come into the light.
- The police are given the role of Child protectors and are responsible to immediately report the cases to the Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours from receiving the complaint and also arrange for the required medical treatment.
- The trial is to be conducted in-camera in order to maintain the confidentiality of the child’s identity.
- The Special Courts established for the purpose of dealing with POCSO cases shall dispose of the cases within one year from the date of reporting.
- The Act provides stringent punishment to all the offenders depending upon the gravity of the case.
- The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019 came into force with additional provisions including the definition of Child Pornography and punishment for the same, the death penalty for aggravated penetrative Sexual assault.
A lot of cases have been reported in light of the POCSO Act. However, the implementation of the Act has lacunae due to which the special purpose of its enactment has not been served. Most of the cases are delayed beyond the prescribed time and the conviction rate is also low. The reasons could be complete lack of awareness of the existing legislation, the involvement of influential people, the helplessness of economically backward people and suppression of victims based on their caste.
It is not surprising to say that most of the children who fall prey for such abuses belong to financially backwards and Caste sensitive communities. For example, a case in which a 17-year-old girl was gang-raped in the year 2017 by a former politician who was convicted of rape and was imposed with a punishment of life imprisonment.Similarly, a recent case, popularly known as Kathua rape case, where an 8-year-old girl was abducted, raped and murdered with a motive of driving away from the community to which the girl belongs from the locality can be considered.
Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015:
We see several children committing offences due to various reasons. All such children are dealt under this Act with appropriate provisions of rehabilitation, care and protection to cater to their development by adopting child-friendly methods of approach for better understanding and adjudication of children.
The following are the salient features of the Act:
- The Act defines categorizes children into “Children in Conflict with the law” and “Children in Need of Care and Protection”.
- The Act treats all the children equally except those between the age 16-18 years who will be treated as adults if they commit and heinous crime. This provision was introduced after the infamous Nirbhaya case.
- The Act makes it mandatory to set up Juvenile Justice Boards consisting of a Metropolitan or Judicial Magistrate of First class and two Social Workers as members to deal with the cases relating to Children in conflict with the law.
- The Act provides for setting up of Special Homes and Observation Homes to take care of Children in Conflict with Law while the case is pending or during the ongoing of inquiry.
- The Act provides to set up Child Welfare Committees consisting of a Chairperson and four other members to take care of children by further setting up Children Homes and Shelter Homes individually or together with Voluntary Organizations.
- The Act provides for Rehabilitation and Social integration of children in need of help.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006:
Child marriage has been in practice since ancient period. Many social reforms were carried on by various social reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Gurajada Apparao to curb this practice. However, there are still traces of such practices in the villages of Rajasthan wherein a child who is underage is married. This practice is not only illegal and immoral but also hinders the growth of the child by suppressing them emotionally and physically and also creates an obstacle in the enjoyment of childhood. A law with the main objective to prohibit child marriage has been passed by the Parliament in the year 2006. This Act contains provisions relating to the punishment for solemnizing child marriage, the appointment of child marriage prohibition officers and their powers etc.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986:
Children take up various employments due to the financial needs of the family. But the same has been misused by employers by making the children work in hazardous and dangerous working conditions. Though there is a provision in the law prohibiting children below 14 years of age to work in factories there was no special law to deal with it particularly. Hence this Act has been enacted to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the working conditions in other employments.
The Right to Education Act, 2009:
In consonance with the Fundamental Right of Education, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment held that Part 3 and Part 4 are supplementary and complementary to each other making it interrelated which resulted in the enactment of the said Act. This Act makes it mandatory to provide free and compulsory education to all the children between the ages of 6 to 14 years.
Evidently, the Government of India has been striving to enact the laws for the better growth and development of children in all possible ways. As a responsible citizen and an individual with moral values, each and every one of us should strive to curb any kind of child abuse and bring into light such cases, on getting to know about the abuse by reporting to the appropriate authority.
A child today will become a responsible citizen tomorrow. Hence, it is very important to contribute positively to their growth and make the world a better place to live for our future generations.
Prathima Bhargavi | Lawyer, Hyderabad
 1999 WHO Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention
GhorakhDajiGhadge vs The State of Maharashtra 1980 CriLJ 1380
Harpal Singh and Anr vs State of Himachal Pradesh AIR 1981 SC 361
 United Nations Convention on Rights of child, 1989
Unnao Rape case
Mohd. Akhtar vs The State of Jammu and Kashmir
 Sec 67, The Factories Act, 1948.
 Art 21-A, The Constitution of India, 1950.
 Unnikrishnan, J.P. And Ors. Etc., vs State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors. AIR 1993 SC 2178.