Reader queries

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.

Quote: Victims and survivors of abuse need to be believed and supported by those close to them. 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.

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.