Experts respond to highest number of child abuse cases in TN schools

The highest number of complaints related to child abuse may have come from schools in Tamil Nadu, but this only indicates high awareness against the evil, and not necessarily its high prevalence in the State, activists have emphasised.

E. Ahamed, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, told the Rajya Sabha on Friday that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had received a total of 115 complaints related to child abuse in schools from Tamil Nadu.

A total of 570 complaints were made to the NCPCR (www.ncpcr.gov.in), including instances of corporal punishment, harassment, humiliation and sexual exploitation in schools across the country. After Tamil Nadu, Delhi is said to have the second highest number of such cases, with 105 complaints. However, those working in the area of child rights and prevention of child sexual abuse observe that the awareness level in Tamil Nadu is quite high.

NCPCR chairperson Shanta Sinha thinks so too. “Just because the maximum number of complaints came from Tamil Nadu, it does not mean that child abuse is most prevalent there. It only implies that the awareness is high and that civil society is alert and gives people the confidence to complain. The observation is in favour of Tamil Nadu, not against it,” she said.

Vidya Reddy of Tulir, Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse says Tamil Nadu must be congratulated for its frequent reporting of cases of child abuse in schools. “Child sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the world, and the fact that Tamil Nadu makes so many complaints goes to show that the awareness is high and that there is faith in the system,” she said.

Pointing to the State's initiatives as part of a campaign to prevent child sexual abuse, Ms. Reddy said: “Collectors of seven districts had posters on child sexual abuse put up in all the government schools. The Chennai Corporation has also been quite proactive, creating a lot of awareness among students going to the schools it runs.” However, private schools are yet to take as much initiative.

Henri Tiphagne, state representative of the NCPCR for implementation of the RTE Act, observes that awareness about child abuse is highest in Tamil Nadu, compared to the rest of the country. “Here, the media is very vigilant when it comes to child rights. Also, there is easy access to information that enables swift action. It is a good sign that so many cases get reported, but even that is only a tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Adding that the school education department needed to establish one nodal point per district for grievances, he said: “In cases of child sexual abuse, the education department should be conducting the preliminary investigation. No child must be made to go to the police station. Instead, education department officials should give the complaint on the child's behalf,” he said.

It is also reliably learnt that the State government is putting together rules advocating severe action against school employees who have been found to have sexually abused children. The punishment, it is said, could go up to immediate dismissal of the perpetrator. The school education department will no longer be constrained by service rules or other clauses that often weaken the extent of punishment.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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