Sexual Abuse is the act of molestation, coercing or physically forcing a sexual act or non-consensual touching to any other person. Child sexual abuse is a form of abuse that involves sexual activity with a minor.
In 2012, a significant step was taken by the Indian parliament to enact its first law outlining the crime of Child sexual abuse in India. Until then, there was no law to govern child sexual abuse. Prior to the act of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the sexual abuse was covered in different laws that were not designed for the crime of child abuse specifically. For example, if a girl was abused sexually, the perpetrator could be charged with assault and outraging the modesty of a woman. And if the boy was abused, then the accused could be charged under the homosexuality law. But this would only happen if the police or prosecutor thought the law could cover such acts.
Recognizing the need to prevent women and children from exploitation and to support their survival and rehabilitation, the concept of the shelter home was introduced in India. They provide temporary accommodation, maintenance and rehabilitative services to women and children rendered homeless due to various reasons like crime, violence, family discord, mental stress, etc. The Supreme Court said that the mechanism developed was not adequate to restrict incidents of sexual abuse of women and children at shelter homes and asked the Ministry to formulate a child protection policy.
Recently the cases of abuse of women and children in shelter homes have come to light again. The rapes in shelter home raise the question ‘are the children and women in shelter house really safe?’
The worst-case scenario is when the protector becomes the hunter, and the one to be safeguarded falls prey. There are hundreds of child shelter homes in India where we don’t know the actual status of innocent young lives and their treatment. At a time where shelter homes, tasked with the safety of women, whether in Muzzafarpur or Deora are found guilty of raping women, the news about child shelter homes pushing small kids on the cusp of human trafficking and molestation is despicable and fraught with severe pain and agony.
The shelter homes are meant to take care of women and children who have been traumatised by their circumstances. But, it is difficult to deny the fact that the children are starved, beaten and assaulted sexually, leaving them in a mental wreck for the rest of their lives.
In the Muzaffarpur case, 34 girls aged 7 to 17 years were allegedly raped for months, and most of them have an impairment in speech. With the media attention and political stir over the case, the Supreme Court stepped in to ensure that the victims do not get into the limelight of the case. The girls are now placed in shelters across the state and are being counselled.
The increasing number of cases against children in shelter homes magnifies the need for mental healthcare. The National Policy for Children 2013 talks about giving adequate mental healthcare services to children, awareness and understanding about this subject is at a very nascent stage. Besides the exploitation these children undergo in these shelter homes, many of the unregistered ones are also indulging in an illegal adoption.