Is there any law in India to deal with incest and child sexual abuse? What kind of punishment does it involve for the perpetrators of abuse? What does it do to protect the victims?
Gender rights worker, Kolkata
Yes, there is a specific law to deal with sexual abuse of children (people less than 18 years of age). It’s called the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, or POCSO in short. This law is gender neutral for both victims and perpetrators and covers a range of sexual acts. You can read about the penalties prescribed under the Act here.
However, while it’s very important to have a law, it’s equally important to understand that the law alone cannot be the answer when it comes to protecting victims of incest and child sexual abuse. In fact, in RAHI Foundation’s work with survivors of incest and child sexual abuse over the years, we have found that for many of them, the concept of justice is different.
The survivors don’t necessarily want to take their abuser/s to court or punish them through the criminal justice system. What they’re looking for is an acknowledgement by the abuser, and the family, of the abuse and the harm it has caused, and an apology! This goes a long way in healing.
Victims and survivors of abuse need to be believed and supported by those close to them. As we say, abuse happens in isolation but recovery cannot. It happens in the context of relationships that provide physical and emotional safety. A good support network helps in mitigating the trauma. So a positive social response to a disclosure of abuse is critical, and involves looking beyond the law as a means of redressal.
About the main photo: Posters developed by students of Vidyasagar School of Social Work, Kolkata, as part of an event to generate dialogue on incest and child sexual abuse in 2015. The text in the poster in the centre, when translated from Bengali to English, implies that the elders say children should keep quiet about sexual abuse, or else the ‘abusers’ will scold them. Photo courtesy: RAHI Foundation.
For the previous issue of this Q&A column on incest and child sexual abuse, please click here – Editor.
2 responses to "When the law protects but justice heals"
But if the abusers are not punished, they will repeat their behavior. How is just acknowledging going to help? Why shouldn’t these people simply be locked up!!!
We understand your sentiment. Incest / CSA evokes strong feelings in people. However, when we are looking at intervention, we need to channelise our personal feelings such as anger and frustration into what responses that are effective. Yes, the abuser definitely has to be made accountable for his actions. Sending him to jail is only one way. Confronting the abuser and ensuring that he owns up to his actions and makes amends is another way, one that we believe is more effective in the long run, and certainly beneficial to the healing of victims and survivors and restoring of families. This moves away from a punitive approach to a more restorative one. Regarding re-offending, abusers need help in order to stop and we should be able to create spaces for that.