QUEEN’S ROAD: A study by the government of India has revealed that every second, a child is abused in the country.
Of a sample population of 17,220 children and adolescents, 52.4 per cent boys and 47.06 per cent girls were sexually abused in India.
An article published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR) by Bengaluru scholar Dr Suresh Bada Math in July 2015 suggests that the extent of abuse can only be curbed by making amendments in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012.
Dr Bada Math, Additional Professor of Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS), said, “There are certain gaps in the law that need to be discussed to deal with child sexual abuse, which is a multi-dimensional problem with legal, social, medical and psychological implications.”
Consent for medical examination is one of the most important factors that the POCSO Act fails to deal with. The IJMR paper maintains that if the child or adolescent refuses to undergo medical examination but the family member or investigating officer insists, the POCSO Act does not give clear directions about what is to be done.
According to Dr Bada Math, it would be prudent to take informed consent from a parent when the survivor is a child (below 12 years) and consent from both the parent and the victim, if the survivor is an adolescent (12 to 18 years). However, emergency treatment needs to be initiated without getting into such issues or legality to protect the life of the child.
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Lack of female doctors to deal with female child abuse victims at government medical facilities has also been cited as one of the major lacunae. The contradictory laws mandated under POCSO and Indian Penal Code are conflicting in the absence of a female doctor. Treatment cost in the absence of a proper government facility is also a shadow area in the POCSO Act.
The paper observes that consented sexual intimacy between two adolescents or between an adolescent and an adult is considered illegal under the POCSO Act, because no exception has been granted in the Act under which an act of sexual encounter with a person under 18 years of age is an offence, irrespective of consent or the gender or marriage or age of the victim and the accused.
However, it is proposed that any consensual sexual act that may constitute penetrative sexual assault should not be an offence when it is between two consenting adolescents, otherwise both the adolescents will be charged under the POCSO Act, 2012.
On the other hand, the latest amendment of the Indian Penal Code concerning rape laws in 2013 clearly reports that the age of consent for sex has been fixed at 18 years, hence, anyone who has consensual sex with a child below 18 years can be charged with rape, which may increase the number of rape cases.
A more serious repercussion is that obstetricians and gynaecologists need to report all the MTP (medical termination of pregnancy) cases performed on children (below 18 years).
Dr Bada Math said that the Act is also short-sighted in dealing with issues of child marriage and it needs to be mandated at the earliest. Proper training should also be imparted to medical staff dealing with victims of child sexual abuse.