Author- Vishal Patidar
What does a child need? The answer to this question can easily be given by each of us with the help of our childhood experiences. First and foremost, a child needs a safe and stable home, free of abuse, along with loving and protective parents. Children need a sense of routine and belongingness so that when things go wrong in the outside world, they can return home for warmth, assistance and support. Home is still far from a haven, a distant dream for too many children. Over 275 million children are subjected to domestic abuse at home every year, and this has a significant and lasting effect on their lives and prospects.
These children not only witness one parent aggressively assaulting another, but they often hear the distressing sounds of abuse or in many cases, they themselves are subjected to abuse. One of the most pervasive human rights issues of our time is child abuse. Unfortunately, child abuse/child exploitation is increasing at an unprecedented pace in various countries.
The danger that this heinous crime causes to children is immeasurable, as a child’s mind and conscience are extremely susceptible to being affected by any circumstance that comes their way. Child abuse poses a significant threat to children’s health and mental well-being. Children respond to their environment in a variety of ways, and these reactions can differ, based on various factors including the gender and age of the child. Children who are subjected to family violence are more likely than those who are not, to experience social, mental, psychological, or behavioral problems.
Types of Child Abuse
Child abuse can be interpreted as neglecting the child or harming in verbal, sexual, or physical ways, as a result of pressure from cultural or ethnic influences. Often, emotional violence, but, not noticeable, may have a life-long effect on the child’s mental health. Child abuse has been categorized into different types: –
- Sexual Abuse:
Sexual Assault, dissemination or processing of child pornography and possession of child pornography are the three forms of sexual crimes against children. Sexual behaviour cannot be consented to by a child under the applicable laws. Sexual exploitation is never the responsibility of the child. Usually most of the sexual abuse offences reported were committed by the child’s relatives or the ones whom the child had known personally.
- Neglect: –
Neglect is described as a family’s or caretaker’s failure to provide for a child’s growth, including health, education, shelter, nutrition, and a healthy living environment. Any act or omission that harms or can damage a child’s overall development is considered negligence, as it also, fails to shield them from harm as much as possible.
- Emotional Abuse: –
Emotional abuse against a child may harm his emotional growth and sense of self-worth. Criticism, rejections, threats, and the withholding of affection and care are common forms of emotional violence. As a result, the child may experience delays in physical growth, speech disabilities, and sometimes excessive behaviours. He may also avoid physical interaction with his parents or be fearful of returning home at times.
- Physical Abuse: –
Physical abuse, according to the WHO, is described as an act by a parent or other individual in a position of power, obligation, or trust that results in actual or potential harm to a child. Bruises, broken bones, malnutrition, and apparent neglect are some of the symptoms that a child has been physically abused.
Impact Of Child Abuse
Abuse may cause physical harm to a child, particularly in cases of physical or sexual abuse. This harm manifests as bruises, scars, burns, fractures, or bleeding, swelling, and scratches, among other things. Various studies show that the impact of child abuse is not just confined to injuries and other physical abuse. The victims who face child abuse experience psychological and developmental issues that may forever be present in the mind of the victim. Post-traumatic stress disorder, distress, anxiety, frustration, diminished sense of self, dissociative phenomena and suicidal behaviour are all possible reactions to child abuse.
While no single set of behaviours characterizes all child abuse victims, children who have been physically or sexually abused, often experience both externalizing issues as well as internalizing issue. There are a series of other impacts that are caused when the child is abused whether at his own house or in society. He may lose his confidence or self-esteem. High expectations from parents for academic excellence can also intensify the mental pressure on the child.
Also, these incidents may make him weak and very susceptible. An abused child is more likely to harm others as an adult, resulting in violence being passed down from generation to generation. In addition to these effects, the children who are exposed to abuse may also impact their health in various direct or indirect ways. Children who were ill-treated developed serious health problems because of child abuse such as lung infections, heart disease and liver ailment. Thus, child abuse is not only restricted to the presence of a child, it leads to problems like anxiety, inferiority complex, depression, which can further lead to higher-risk behaviours like smoking, alcohol and drug abuse.
Covid 19: Increasing Risk Of Child Abuse
Many parents and their young ones may have been affected significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, not just as an effect of the shutdown, controlled measures, social withdrawal, changing demographics, and limited access to medical care, but more as a consequence of the rapid and possibly long-term increase in child poverty and social insecurity. The pandemic poses a global crisis not just for our health and development, but also for family well-being, thanks to a swirling process of influences that can aggravate possible stressful situations.
There are few precedents for the situation created by COVID-19, but we can learn from previous research in crises or emergencies where scenarios of accelerated stress are followed by sudden changes in prior conditions. Individual development can be defined based on the exposure dose or accumulated risks posed by crises and mass aggression that pose dangerous challenges or disturbances to entities, households, or societies.
As a consequence, the COVID-19 pandemic has indeed been characterized as a multisystem swirling global disaster that has caused chaos in children’s lives on so many levels while leaving our societies helpless. COVID-19 research is certainly beginning to show the detrimental effects of the lockdown and restrictions placed and the influence of social stressors on loved ones, highlighting the need for a long review of children’s and adolescents’ personal wellbeing.
The extent of the effect is dependent on vulnerability factors such as developmental age, past mental health problems, educational and socioeconomic status, or being quarantined, according to new evidence on both good parenting and the mental health of children and adolescents. This rapidly shifting context must also be considered to resolve the risk of violence against children and teenagers, which is critical if we are to avoid or track such cases before their effects become irreversible.
Legal Position of Child Abuse in India
India has introduced many laws to curb child abuse and violence against children over the last couple of decades. India pledged to the “United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child” in 2012 that it would make physical punishment illegal in all areas, including the household and community. However, in India, there is a dire need for a legislation that recognizes physical punishment in households, schools, or conventional justice system as a crime. In 2005, India established a “National Plan of Action for Children” and a “National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.”
The international treaty requires India to end all kinds of child exploitation and violence against children. A series of violent behaviours were made illegal under the “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act” of 2000. However, physical punishment and domestic violence remain beyond the realms of crime and criminality. According to a 2018 report by National Crime Research Bureau, there has been a 22 per cent increase in the cases of child abuse in the country. It’s a misery that to date, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860 has a loophole that legalizes corporal punishment.
Various sections of IPC had a major drawback as they kept the children out of the purview of several offences including rape. So, to address this issue, India came up with legislation that solely dealt with sexual offences against children. The 2012 “Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act” criminalized child sexual exploitation. The Act explicitly categorized child sexual exploitation as illegal viz. Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Child Pornography etc.
Also, the Act has laid down various punishments for the sexual offences against the children, for instance, Penetrative sexual assault carries a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 10 years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and fine. The Act further includes several measures aimed at modernizing the child sexual offence prosecution process which inter-alia includes the establishment of Special courts, as well as victim relief and recovery programs.
With over 164.5 million from the total population of India being children, the nation has faced a great problem in addressing the problem of child abuse. The situation has become a more intense one, overpowering various other issues surrounding children. The setback has been the inability of the government to legislate a statute which has provision to tackle this social evil. But at the same time, we must realize that the government alone is not the one who is responsible for bringing a change in the current situation.
The people of the country have an equal responsibility to bring about a social change towards this menace of child abuse. In this fast-evolving world, we tend to do away with our responsibility to provide a safer and sounder environment for children. We must change our mindset and have an approach where we try to make them more comfortable to share whatever problem they are facing. These are the real asset of our nation and giving them an environment where they feel free and not frightened, where they are evolved and not feeling depressed and an environment which motivates them to succeed rather than making them a victim of child abuse.
Vishal Patidar is a first-year law student at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) Navi Mumbai campus, currently pursuing B.A. LL. B (Hons).