Childline says Kerala on top in number of abuse cases reported

Authorities are struggling to streamline a rush of initiatives to help children sexually abused in school open up about the trauma they have undergone. Bottling it up can scar the victims for the rest of their lives.

School authorities often are reluctant to approach the police on a child’s complaint. In some cases, they even turn judges of their own cause.

A case in point happened earlier in October when a Malayalam teacher was arrested for allegedly misbehaving with his students at the Vengapatta Government High School at Perambra in the district. The police, since then, have recorded statements from two more students, reports said. They claim that school authorities started cooperating with the investigation only after a parent lodged a first investigation report.

This is when Section 21 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, holds school authorities liable for six months’ imprisonment if found guilty of failure to report a complaint of abuse.

Childline India Foundation says Kerala, with 681 cases, comes on top of the list of States in cases of child sex abuse reported from 2010 to 2012 — far ahead of the 155 of the second-position Tamil Nadu. Statistics with it show that 82 per cent of the abused children were girls and 18 per cent boys in the State in 2012-13. Of the cases of child sex abuse received by Childline in 2012-13, teachers were perpetrators in 71 — almost double that of the 43 cases in which strangers were the abusers.

In an e-mail, Anuradha Vidyasankar, Head, Southern Regional Resource Centre, Childline India Foundation, says, “It by no means suggests that Kerala is the State with the highest number of cases, but [one has] to read it as highest being reported.”

There are several avenues for a child to complain in the State — school vigilance committees, police complaint boxes, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan’s help desk, counsellors from the Social Justice Department, Bhoomika centres, one-stop crisis cells and special juvenile police units. But authorities wonder if any of them produce results.

Panel view

Neela Gangadharan, Chairperson, Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, told The Hindu that the commission was investigating if any of those avenues actually ended up protecting an abused child.

“That is exactly what we are trying to assess. What is the effectiveness of all these multiple complaint systems? Do any of these systems make the child secure enough to speak up about the torture she is going through at school?” Ms. Gangadharan asked.

The commission is, however, in its early days. It is installing an online complaint mechanism on its official web page.

Zero tolerance

V.N. Jithendran, Director, Social Justice, said his department was developing a “zero tolerance system” against child sexual abuse.

“Abuse by teachers is an aggravated offence because the abuser is somebody in authority. The burden of proof is shifted on the accused. That is, what the child says is presumed to be true. This is a paradigm shift,” Mr. Jithendran said.

On ground, the department is yet to sort out how to converge the multiple complaint systems. “Yes, I agree, there are too many players,” he said.

Moreover, the department employs nearly 500 counsellors across the State. This is when Kozhikode district alone has 168 high schools and over a 1,000 primary schools.

But he is optimistic about the future.

“We are planning to have the Childline number 1098 in every classroom. Not every child is aware of this avenue. We are working on a new scheme to identify 10 teachers from each district and give them State-level training on how to identify child sex abuse,” Mr. Jithendran said.

But these again are teachers who work for the school management.

Big zero

“High schools have initiatives such as Jagrithi Samithi, Kaumara Sabha, Class Sabha, etc. But that is not the case in primary schools. Monitoring there is a big zero. Not a single person even comes to visit these schools, to interact with children,” Balachandran Parachottil, who has won the National Award for Best Teacher, said.