Sexual violence against children in Jammu and Kashmir
The lack of awareness and clear guidelines on the child sexual abuse in Jammu and Kashmir leads to insensitive handling of such cases that only exacerbates trauma of the victims
By: Tehmeena Rizvi
A sensitivity-based approach towards the children and their rights play an important role in determining the indicators of impactful development in the society. For a country to flourish well, it must demonstrate a commitment to make the children aware of their rights; besides, building a system to protect them.
The protracted and intractable conflict in Kashmir has led to many socio-economic problems, violations of children’s rights being one of them. Despite the fact that children account for half of the population in J&K, the Union Territory does not have a regional Commission for Protection of Child Rights. But even more to the point, there has been a noticeable spike in crimes against children including violations of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, rape, sexual assault.
This analysis will focus on forms of sexual violence against children in Jammu and Kashmir suggestions thereof.
Sexual violence against children encompasses situations “in which a child is forced to perform a sexual act by a relative or caregiver”. It is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. According to major academic works concerning child sexual abuse, forms of child sexual abuse include sexual touching, unwanted attempted sex, pressured sex and physically forced sex.
The children in Jammu and Kashmir are not provided exposure about forms of child sexual abuse due to which many victims are not able to report the abuse. Also, it has become extremely difficult to capture data on sexual abuse because the action against the offence is confined to the registration of an FIR. Children who are sexually abused are on the verge of mental breakdown and they are in desperate need of psychological support and mental health counselling. The lack of awareness and clear guidelines on the child sexual abuse in J&K leads to insensitive handling of such cases that only exacerbate the trauma of the victim.
A few incidents of child sexual abuse are presented below:
- On June 5, 2020, a three-year-old child in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district was allegedly raped by her 13-year-old cousin and a case was lodged under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. (In Kashmir talking of rape and abuse of children still a taboo, The Kashmir Walla, June 24, 2020)
- In another incident, a fourteen-year-old girl in south Kashmiri’s Anantnag district complained of stomach-ache and Doctors were stunned to discover that she was eight months pregnant. The family of the girl accused a 35-year-old relative of raping her. (In Kashmir talking of rape and abuse of children still a taboo, The Kashmir Walla, june 24, 2020)
- Musab Omer, a CSA survivor and activist says that it took him 14 years to speak of sexual abuse. He was 14 when he was sexually abused by a faith healer, Aijaz sheikh, in 2002. Musab along with seven other victims filed a complaint but the perpetrator was granted bail in less than two months. Musab has also worked for CSA in Kashmir and other states of the country.
In the first case, the accused and victim, both were minor. It is not known as to what led him to rape his 3-year-old cousin. It is clear here that the children were not provided with sex education. Moreover, if the boy was exposed to sexual content is still unknown.
In the second case, the accused was an adult and the victim a minor. The victim was 8 months pregnant and it was a failure on the part of the family not to recognize the behavioral change in their child.
In the third case, it took the survivor 14 years to heal from the experience and become comfortable disclosing the abuse. The survivor said that he was not able to walk properly for many days and none of his family members noticed it. The accused was a faith healer and walked free because of the support of his followers.
In the aforementioned cases of child sexual abuse, the accused persons were not strangers and took advantage of the insensitive approach demonstrated by certain families towards their children. In such a setting, a survivor is supposed to compromise his/her mental health. Moreover, the survivors were not provided with any psychological counselling to deal with the trauma.
The victims of child sexual abuse in Kashmir are not speaking up because of the lack of awareness and support. The readers of this article might have heard about child sexual abuses from their friends and acquaintances but very few cases are formally reported to police in Kashmir. Not being able to speak up leaves a deep impact on the victims’ mental health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the incident, shock and denial are typical. Long term effects include flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms in certain cases. Some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Vivid memories of the traumatic events and physiological changes in the body can lead to undesirable consequences in the child’s personal and social life.
Parents are the source of comfort and support for the children. They can play a major role in freeing their children, who are sexually abused, from the burden of guilt and shame by letting them know that it was not their fault that they have been sexually abused. This approach of parents reduces the burden of guilt and worthlessness experienced by such children. It helps them to rebuild their lost self-esteem and confidence.
- The legal authorities should provide training to police with regard to the handling of child sexual abuse victims. The police should hire clinical psychologists and make them available to assist the officers in child sexual abuse cases.
- Sex education should be made mandatory in schools and every school should appoint a counsellor for the purpose.
- Parents and teachers should identify behavioral changes in the children and in no case they should be left unattended.
- The family should not compel the victims of child sexual abuse to share their experience, in the absence of a clinical psychologist.