The incident in which a seven-year-old girl was allegedly tortured to death by her stepmother and father in Kozhikode has brought in to sharp focus the increasing incidents of child abuse by parents.
Abuse by the parents account for 20 per cent of the distress calls from children at the Childline centre in the district in a month.
Unlike the cruelty of stepmother that claimed the life of the innocent girl in Kozhikode, it’s alcoholic fathers who have emerged as the main villain for children in households in the district going by the calls received at the toll-free number of Childline.
“Drunk father beating up children is one of the complaints often heard. There have been instances where we have come across children who have run away from homes to escape such abuses,” Antony Jinoy, district Childline coordinator, told The Hindu.
Tales of abuses at home are increasingly being reported during the sessions organised by Childline in schools. When such incidents come to light, Childline officials visit the homes of the children concerned to talk parents out of abusing their children.
In many cases, parents mend their ways out of shame. “If the situation does not improve, then Childline initiates steps to move them to a children’s home through the Child Welfare Committee after securing their consent,” said Mr. Jinoy.
A victim of child abuse can be brought to the care of CWC by anyone. The district CWC holds sitting every Friday during which such cases are heard. On other days, the child can be produced before a member at his home or work place.
“The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act passed in 2012 holds out more stringent punitive measures against child abusers than the Juvenile Justice Act. Since it is more child-friendly, protecting the privacy and identity of victims, children are more forthcoming in reporting abuse,” said K.K. Shaju, member of district Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
Section 3 of the Act provides for a minimum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment, which may go up to life imprisonment. As per Section 5 of the Act, the punishment will be a minimum of 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment, which may extend to life imprisonment, and also fine for aggravated penetrative sexual assault by close relatives or law enforcers responsible for the protection of children.
Senior psychiatrist C.J. John said that though incidents of abuse emanating from neglect, cruelty, hatred and even an unwanted feeling towards children owing to gender issues and unexpected pregnancy are also being reported, the common variant that’s prevalent in the Malayali society is well-intended verbal abuse and physical abuse of children.
While good parenting calls for patience, the parents here often take the easy route of verbal and physical abuse to get their wards perform better and fulfil their dreams without having any idea of the mental and physical scars that it inflicts on them.
“We often talk about the need to abolish corporal punishment in schools forgetting the domestic situation. Hurtful and demoralizing comments and curses shatter the self-esteem of children whose accumulated anger result in revolt against parents at the first given opportunity,” Mr. John said.