The Supreme Court of India ruled that a male accused of sexual assaulting a 12-year old girl was cleared of the charge because there had been “no skin-to-skin contact”. A second judgement which reduced the prison term for a defendant who forced a 10-year old boy to engage in oral sex has been criticized.
This order was made by the Allahabad high Court in Uttar Pradesh, one day before the Supreme Court landmark ruling.
It all started in 2016, when the victim’s father visited him at his home. He then took the boy to a temple to sexually abuse him. The man had threatened to punish the boy if he spoke out about his assault by giving him 20 rupees (20 cents/20 pence).
The man was found guilty of “aggravated sexual assault by penetrative means” and sentenced to 10 years in prison after a court trial.
Appeal was filed by the man and he was sentenced to seven-years imprisonment. He stated that his assault had not been “aggravated” under the law. This implied that the offense was more serious than it was determined to be by the trial judge.
The judgment was questioned by legal experts who said that the Pocso Act contains several elements which can make an assault “aggravated”. One of these factors is the victim’s age.
The order caused a lot of outrage in India, with many using social media platforms to critique it.
Many pointed out that while the Supreme Court did not uphold the Mumbai court’s order for “no skin contact”, it had only recently stated that judges should focus on the sexual intent of acts and not their details.
One user on Twitter described the ordeal as bizarre and outlandish. Another wrote that no amount of punishment could erase the “trauma” of the little boy. Many others wondered, “What was the problem with the judge?”
MP Mahua Moitra is one of the people who TweetShe expressed her dismay at the decision:
Pocso was created to protect children from the most vile crimes. She wrote, “Don’t dilute.”
India hosts the most cases of child sexual abuse in the world, numbering in the tens of thousands. The National Crime Records Bureau recorded 43,000 Pocso Act offenses last year – an average of one per 12 minutes.
The ministry of child welfare and women’s rights found that nearly 12300 of the children it surveyed said they had suffered from sexual abuse in 2007. Contrary to common belief that abuse is only for girls, the study found that boys are equally at risk. Perhaps 53% more of the respondents were male.
Police say the victims are aware of abusers in over 90% of cases, just like in the case with the boy aged 10.
Anuja Gupta has been involved in the fight against child sexual abuse and especially incestuous violence for over a quarter century. She says that official statistics don’t tell the whole story because most cases are not reported.
It is known as a silent epidemic. It’s everywhere. This is happening across all generations and in every home. Because many abusers are relatives, there is stigma attached to the topic and some people are reluctant or unable to speak up about it. Many survivors and others say that they’ll work with the family to resolve any abuse cases. However, many other people don’t believe this.
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Ms. Gupta is a child victim of child sexual abuse and says the issue will not end in her lifetime. “I have seen that what happened to me, has also happened to my 18-year-old and 19-year old peers.”
She says that law and the criminal justice system are only one solution. The larger problem is the wider social problem, which she believes must be dealt with.
She says, “Since this is described as an epidemic you must deal with it the same way you would with any other epidemic.” The government, society, and family all have to get involved in the fight. It is the responsibility of government to provide information and dispel myths as well as deal with prejudices.
However, acknowledging the issue and its magnitude is the first step. Ms Gupta says. However, denial is rampant throughout our society. It is something we all deny individually as well as collectively. We must talk about it. We must remember the survival needs of survivors in everything that we do.
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