India celebrates children's day on 14th of November every year on the birthday of free India's first prime minister - Jawaharlal Nehru. But it's about time we educated ourselves with more than how much Nehru loved kids - it's time we acknowledged that the country we've built is not as safe for our children as we'd like it to be.
I had the opportunity to attend a POCSO case hearing with my mother. She was a medical witness and her testimony was simple - to give a written statement regarding the sexual potency of the accused. Before going to the witness stand, she turns to me and says - this is from when you were in high school. I couldn't help but exclaim loudly, inviting glares of disapproval from the lawyers present. I was in high school 7 years ago. Seven long years. The kid in question was 11 when this happened to her. She's 18 now. And she still hasn't gotten justice?
Thousands of POCSO cases are registered every month in this country. There are millions of people involved in the process of bringing the perpetrators to justice. There are laws that require doctors, teachers, counsellors and child welfare workers to report a case under POCSO whenever they suspect that a child is being sexually abused. The act recognises forms of sexual abuse apart from penile-vaginal penetration. It criminalises abetment of child sexual abuse. Even with such a system in place, the statistics show consistent growth in offences against children.
Owing to the lack of open conversations at home, children face fear and shame after someone abuses them. More often than not, its someone they trust or someone their parents put on a pedestal. In a country like India, where parents emphasise so much on the safety of their daughters, the abuse undergone by young boys mostly go unnoticed - making them easy targets. One thing the perpetrators consistently count on is the inability of the child to have an open conversation with their guardians about sexual abuse. The awkwardness that we cultivate regarding sex somehow makes them feel guilty. The aura of shame that lurks over the subject is pushing kids to take on abuse and not utter a word.
This children's day, let's promise ourselves to have more open and honest conversations with our children. Let's take away the element of "shame" and create safe environments for children to open up, ask questions and seek help. Let's understand that it's not about sex, it's about violence and trauma. Let's break free from 'log kya kahenge'.
Happy children's day to you.