On a visit to the city as part of his Bharat Yatra campaign for child safety and against child trafficking, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi talks to The Hindu about the taboo on speaking out against child abuse, and how society is not prepared to make use of a strong law like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, because while the law is good, enforcement by judicial institutions is necessary.
Do you think child sexual abuse has become such an important issue that you had to take out a yatra?
This menace of child sexual abuse, rape, violence against children, and child trafficking is growing and has become a moral epidemic. The entire society is affected by it, whether it is a boy or a girl, rich or poor, it is prevalent in big cities and small. Children are not safe in schools, at home and in public spaces. Sadly, in most cases, they don’t speak up under the garb of honour, respect and dignity, because we don’t have the environment where children can vent. They live in depression and frustration, which affects their personality. In many cases, the abuse is by their own relatives, and the biggest challenge is to break the silence . Children and parents, the entire society, need to break the silence surrounding it. Otherwise, it is soon going to ruin the family and value system. Not only children, but parents are afraid of relatives. This is a fight against fear, to bring in freedom of mind.
What do you think we can do to curb the number of cases?
One way is by what we are doing, that is by mass awareness. Whether it is the government, private sector or religious institutions, we are trying to explore their roles, which has never been done before. Because compassion for children is the only thing that can bring everyone together and mitigate differences.
Do you think cases of child sexual abuse have increased in recent years?
There has been an increase in cases, but also an increase in cases reported, so that is good news. At least we are talking about them. Ten years ago, a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Government of India said 53% of Indian kids are sexually abused. Which means one in two children is abused. But many times, they don’t know what happened; they feel uncomfortable. Nowadays, they know that it is a bad touch, but they don’t know it is sexual abuse. And secondly, they don’t speak out and don’t tell their parents, and hence cases go unreported. Therefore, we just had 15,000 cases reported in millions.
Do you think we have enough laws to deal with child sexual abuse?
Law is important, and it is like a tool, like a weapon. But when you don’t have the courage and the mind to use it, it’s of no use as the society is not prepared to use the weapon. Society is not prepared to use a strong law like the POCSO Act. The Act is very good in itself, but enforcement has to take place through judicial institutions, as prosecution is not taking place, and the conversion of prosecution to conviction is minimal.
Another problem is victims and their families live with a social taboo; they live in fear and predators move around freely. I came across a man whose two daughters, aged three and 17, were raped by the neighbour. He got bail after a few months, and in that small locality he roamed around freely. The girls were traumatised as they had to look at his face every day. This compelled the father to send them to their native place.
What do you think is the reason for not getting enough convictions?
We don’t have the judicial infrastructure for the POCSO Act. The judge in the designated POCSO court is also dealing with other responsibilities and cases. Designated doesn’t mean anything; in my view, we need exclusive. The problem will be solved only when we have a designated court to try crimes against children in every district. That judge has to be properly trained and sensitised, there has to be psychological support infrastructure. The designated police officers have to be sensitised so that they can deal with such cases. We need to bring in accountability, and cases have to be dealt with in a time bound manner. But most importantly, the mindset has to change.