Child Rights, Child Abuse & The Culture Of Denial
To ensure that our children are safe and their rights are protected, Kashmir desperately needs a massive awareness campaign about child abuse
The “child rights”, by their nature are economic, social, psychological, physical and cultural rights. Any kind of violation of children’s rights is ‘child abuse’. Child abuse is an umbrella term that refers to physical, sexual and psychological maltreatment of children. In addition, child abuse includes failure to act by parents, teachers, and other caregivers to prevent child rights violations.
However, a common misconception about the term “child abuse” is that it necessarily means sexual exploitation of a child, whereas technically the term is used to describe any harm inflicted on a child. Even failing to provide a child with necessary food, clothing, and shelter is also considered child abuse.
Although child abuse is not an unfamiliar issue in human societies, however, the world has become more careful over the time to prevent it. Every country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which recognizes the rights of children and gives them rights such as protection from physical and mental violence, neglect, sexual abuse and exploitation and so on.
Like other other places, a large amount of efforts have been put in here in Kashmir too, over the years, to safeguard children’s rights and prevent child abuse. Yet, experts say that child abuse is occurring on a large scale in this part of the world. They cite many reasons for this, including lack of awareness among the masses.
To grasp more knowledge about the issue, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke to several experts.
In the law, the term “Child Rights” contains the meaning and explanation of the rights to which every child is entitled to, and if a child is deprived of these rights or of any of them, or if any kind of harm is done to him affecting his physical, social and mental health, it is called “child abuse “.
Having worked for the rights of children in Kashmir for quite a long time, I can confirm that child abuse is rampant in our society. Many of our children are often neglected, exploited, and oppressed. Every now and then we see cases where a child is physically, emotionally or sexually abused. Unfortunately, due to social stigma and lack of awareness, such cases are not always reported.
Lack of awareness is not only one of the main reasons for child abuse, but also the biggest obstacle in stopping this practice. For instance, people don’t know that calling a child “stupid” or “idiot” is prohibited in the law. Since today’s generation of children is emotionally sensitive, they are easily overwhelmed, and this seemingly little word could hurt a child’s feelings. While we were even beaten up by our teachers and parents in our childhood, it used to be considered a normal practice. However, the new generation is more emotionally sensitive, and they need to be treated kindly and in a friendly environment. This is the reason why child rights laws are more comprehended nowadays and the dynamics of their definition change every now and then, all over the world.
For example, after the outbreak of the pandemic last year, an online mode of education was introduced and subsequently a new term like “online bullying” was introduced. A year ago, we had no idea about online bullying, which is now declared prohibited in many countries to protect children’s rights. It is clear that the changing scenarios regarding children’s rights and child abuse require mass awareness in our society.
Many other reasons for child abuse in our society include things like the “culture of denial” and the “conspiracy of silence”. The culture of denial is the result of a lack of a “culture of conversation.” For example, when our kids return from school, we don’t bother to ask them what the environment was like in their school and how the teacher’s behavior toward them was like. Neither we ask them about the behavior of their driver and other people in the school. We need to encourage our children to share their experiences and opinions about everything. Parents also need to understand that their children’s fragile psyche gets damaged when they argue with each other in their presence.
We should get out of the “culture of denial”. We should not assume that bad things can happen only to other people’s children. Secondly, we need to understand that it is not always the outsiders who can harm our child’s physical, social and emotional health. Family members and close relatives can also do the same. As for the “conspiracy of silence,” in this case, it describes our behavior to remain silent when we see child abuse happening around us. For instance, when children’s rights are violated in the neighborhood, we sit back and think that our own children are safe. Such an attitude simply explains the negligence towards children’s rights on the part of the adult population.
Moreover, the role of teachers is of utmost importance in protecting children’s rights and preventing child abuse. It is a proven fact that most of the time school refusals are caused by the behavior of some teachers in schools. A teacher should be well trained so that he or she is aware of the sensitivity in dealing with vulnerable minds. To train teachers and keep an eye on the mental state of children, every school is supposed to have counselors on the job. Not only in schools but also in religious institutions like Dar-ul-Ulooms, where a large number of children are enrolled, counselors must be appointed for this task. These Dar-ul-Ulooms must be registered under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and other relevant laws so that the concerned officials and experts are able to visit these institutions to ensure checks and balances and protection of child rights.
Last but not least, reporting of child abuse cases must be mandatory. Here the media has an important role to play. Reporting on child rights violations and incidents of child abuse will also help to spread awareness among the masses. Unfortunately, we rarely see the educative articles on child rights in the newspapers. Similarly, the NGOs and so-called experts show up only on November 14, the child rights day, to give sermons on the topic. Protection of child rights and prevention of child abuse is a continuous process and we all have to play our roles in this regard.
We have several reformative laws implemented in Jammu and Kashmir aimed to prevent child abuse and to protect the overall child rights. The fact, however, is that these laws are neither proving deterrent enough to prevent child abuse nor to safeguard child rights here. It hurts me to see the violation of child rights in Kashmir. Every now and then, child abuse cases including sexual abuse come to our notice and then we restore, rehabilitate and counsel the victims and as well as the perpetrators, in case they too are children. I do not want to share details with you because these cases are so painful. We recently had a case where a baby had born as a result of child abuse. We have seen that some victims have fallen prey to drugs in their adolescent age.
Unfortunately, many parents have no idea how to treat their children to ensure their safety. Take the usage of mobile phones. Parents should not allow the children to become addicts to the gadget. It is unsafe. Even pornography is easily available on phones. How can elders be so careless to hand over phones to the children, the vulnerable minds? We treated and counseled a girl who had become so addicted to the phone that she was ready to abandon her parents but not the phone.
Many times we see the children from outside Kashmir brought here in violation of child rights and labor laws. Since 2018, we have made restoration and repatriation of as many as 22 such children. Some of them belonged to various Indian states and many of them from foreign countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. Even during the Covid lockdown, we restored and sent back five children to their native places, through proper channels. Just a day ago, we handed over a 15-year-old boy from Buxar Bihar, to his brother who was accompanied by an official team from Bihar. The family of the boy had registered his missing report with Bihar police and here we rescued him from a placement agency.
If you ask me, I would say that an awareness campaign about child rights and child abuse is of utmost importance in Kashmir. Also, school management, teachers, journalists, and religious clerics must play their role to ensure that child rights are not violated.
We have numerous cases of child abuse in Kashmir everywhere. Let me clarify that when we talk of child abuse, it does not necessarily mean sexual abuse; if a child is emotionally or physically hurt or threatened, it is also child abuse. Even if a child is not getting proper nutrition, it too is child abuse. As a professional psychologist, I, every now and then see the children gone through abuse.
For example, presently, I am treating a teenage girl who has been a victim of child abuse at home just because she failed to qualify her class 10th examination. She is emotionally hurt from the core of her heart and mind. She says that her parents wanted her to be a doctor, but when results of 10th class were out, they were shocked to know that she had failed in two subjects and they started bullying her. Even she was beaten up by her father on the day results were declared. The anger, dejection, and misery have accumulated inside the girl and she has become emotionally wounded. She is under treatment and I know she can only overcome this pathetic state of mind if her family improves its behavior towards her.
Unfortunately, most parents and teachers do not understand the sensitivity of the children’s minds. Some time ago, I was working as a counselor in a school in Srinagar, where I once noticed a kindergarten boy walking in the lawn of the school in a strange fashion. I approached him and politely asked him a few questions. In response, he started crying. It took me some time and effort to pacify him and finally, I got to know that he had come to the lawns to memorize some lessons, which, a teacher had given him as an assignment. Feeling my compassionate behavior, he opened up and informed me that his teacher had beaten him with slippers. I took the issue with the management on this incident. Clearly, some of our teachers do not even know that thrashing and beating a child is unlawful. I do not say that children should not be asked to memorize textbook lessons, however, teachers must first ensure that a child understood the lesson so that memorizing becomes easier for him or her. Secondly, teachers cannot physically or emotionally hurt the children. To ensure that such things do not happen NCERT and CBSE guidelines and the National Education Policy clearly emphasize appointing skilled and well-trained counselors in every school.
Parents have the most important role to ensure their children are not meted out with any abuse. They have to be vigilant. They do not have to ensure the safety of children only at schools and other places outside the home but they must make sure that kids are safe at their homes as well.
Lastly, I would emphasize a comprehensive awareness campaign by the professionals — mental health counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists with the help of concerned departments such as education, health, and social welfare —to educate the masses and stakeholders about child rights to ensure the prevention of child abuse in our society.
We, at Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Srinagar have been receiving child abuse complaints since the inception of the committee in 2018. During the past three years, many cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and verbal abuse have been brought to our notice and we have treated every case as per the set norms and under the guidelines of the Juvenile Justice Act. Since we have two shelter homes under Juvenile Justice System, besides an observation home and several other homes run by the government and registered NGOs, in the Srinagar district, we have been keeping victims in these safe houses.
Normally police and local people bring these cases to our notice. We have rescued several children originally from outside Jammu and Kashmir and then sent them to their respective places with consultation and help of the concerned officials of these places. We have a set mechanism for rehabilitation and repatriation of the outside children. Most of them are brought here as domestic help, while the law prohibits such practice. As per the law, a child can only get to part-time (non-hazardous) work. Even then, the employer has to ensure that their childhood and education do not get hampered. But we have found the law is not being followed in every case. We rescued a 16-year-old girl who belonged to West Bengal, who was brought here purposely for sexual abuse in 2018. The girl was found roaming on a Srinagar road. While sharing her story with our counselors, the girl revealed that she has been exploited sexually by the person who had brought her here in the name of domestic help. The medical report confirmed that the girl was sexually exploited. The perpetrator was arrested and we made sure he faces the law.
From birth to the adolescence, a child passes through several cognitive developments. These developments occur during the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and formal operational stage of a child. At any of these stages, if a child gets stressed, he starts cutting down the relations with the external world and in case the stress is severe the child starts showing psychotic symptoms. In fact, children are always vulnerable to emotional hurt because they are born emotionally sensitive. For example, if a parent wittingly or unwittingly stops a child from exploring the environment through his own ways, he or she gets hurt. Similarly, if a child is threatened with something like a dog, a cat, and so on, it impacts his mind to the extent that he or she feels frightened of these things throughout life. This is why we always need to take care of the emotional health of a child. Harming the emotional health of a child falls in the category of child abuse. If a child is abused physically, emotionally, or sexually, over time he or she gets depressed and eventually falls prey to the drug addiction at his adolescent age.
The child abuse can happen anywhere and through anyone. Until the recent past, most of our girl children would be given less importance in our family system and they used to notice that in terms of extending love and care in comparison to their male siblings. As a result, daughters would get emotionally hurt. Thank God, the situation has changed now, and most parents do not discriminate on the basis of the gender of the kids.
To ensure the prevention of child abuse, a child should be provided with a friendly environment — at home, in school, or any other place — everywhere. Children placed at a boarding school or in religious institutions are more vulnerable to different kinds of child abuse. Sometimes, children enrolled in such places may get depressed just because of being away from their parents, siblings, and other relatives. Technically it is called ‘institutional depression’. It is, therefore, necessary that these children must be constantly under the watch of the experts and skilled counselors.
In Kashmir, we must know that our children are more venerable to emotional abuse due to the prevailing conflict situation. The pandemic has added to the misery in this regard. As an expert on the subject, I can tell you that many of our children are going through child abuse. My advice to everyone, particularly to parents and teachers, would be that they should not be strict with the children.