A look at how the world deals with child abuse
Truth is often very harsh and impossible to swallow sometimes. However, the truth is that child abuse is a very truth and what is worse, the laws that are formed by the government to protect the children, often fall extremely short of the mark. More often than not, laws are there only on paper but they fail to be enacted or upheld when they are called for.
Here in India, laws are terribly lax, and ‘connections’ and bribes are often easy ways of getting out of being thrown into the lockup. Instances of child abuse is very high in India, not only because the law doesn’t catch the criminals but because the victims and their families balk from coming out into the open about their experience. Societal shame – the ‘what-would-people-say’ mindset and the tendency to sweep it under the carpet with a ‘this-doesn’t- happen-in-India’ thought process are other evils which allow child abusers to go scot free. It is time those in power shake out of their stupor and do something about strengthening laws.
While we lie in hope of that happening in the near future, let us have a look at the existing laws against child abuse in a few other countries.
In the USA: This is the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave’ as their national anthem proudly declares. But are they well equipped to counter child abuse? Well they do certainly make a lot of provisions to ensure that child abusers do not get by the long arm of the law. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act holds the caregiver or parents responsible for the child and identifies certain behaviours that define child abuse and neglect. Any failure on the part of a guardian of a child which results in death, serious physical and mental abuse, exploitation or sexual abuse is a criminal offence. any act on their part, which presents a risk of serious harm to the child is also an offence. which means that driving under the influence of alcohol, for example, in the presence of a child, will result in arrest for both child abuse as well as drunk driving. The laws define a ‘child’ to be someone under the age of 18 or someone who is emancipated by the law. Most states in America recognise four major types of maltreatment which includes physical abuse, neglect, emotional and sexual abuse. Anything which qualifies as ‘non-accidental’ physical injury, minor or major, is punishable by law. Anything ranging from bruising to fracturing, anything which harms a child intentionally is considered a crime. Physically disciplining a child, by spanking or slapping is not considered abuse, however, as long as it is within reasonable limits and the child is not hurt. It is also a crime if the parent or guardian neglects the child – physical, medical, educational or emotional neglect are the broad categories. In the event of a family being poor and unable to provide for the child, welfare activists step in.
Laws against child sexual abuse, abandonment and substance abuse are other clearly laws- in fact, if the mother uses drugs during pregnancy, then she is liable to be held accountable. If a caregiver of a child is unable to take care of him/her because of substance abuse, then that too, is punishable by law. (Information sourced from Child Welfare Information Gateway; www.childwelfare.gov)
What is heartening about child abuse laws in USA is that they are clearly defined – there are many categories and subcategories and the offences are clearly detailed.
In 2010, a tiny country in North Africa was in the news because of a controversy over its anti-child abuse laws. A new law that wished to prohibit parental beating was greeted with resentment and popular wrath because parents felt it would downgrade their ability to discipline their children and give rise to juvenile delinquency. Many felt that this law was in contradiction with their culture which asks them to be kind to children.
However, there are laws to protect children in South Africa, which have seen the light of reforms, thanks to the advent of democracy in 1994. In a country rife with apartheid and political violence as well as extreme poverty, the laws struggled to see light of day, but in the end, it is heartening to see that at least an effort is being made to protect the innocent.
In particular, the Children’s Act deals with giving effect to existing laws which protect the rights of children, and makes provisions for basic development and protection needs of children and their families. This takes into account the scores of children who need protection from trafficking, sexual abuse, threat of HIV and extreme poverty. Lack of personnel to implement these laws or to supervise the reporting of crimes etc. continues to be obstacles in the path of fair legislation where children are concerned, in Africa. Proof of this being the case is the fact that the terrible practice of mutilation of female genitals for the sake of cultural rituals remains unsupervised by law even today.
In India, in 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child development released a study report on child abuse which showed that more than half the population of children in India are abused by adults every day. Child abuse in this country ranges from sexual, emotional and physical abuse to exploitation of young girls and boys, trafficking and prostitution. What is shocking is that though children face physical and sexual abuse at home, there is no law which protects children from this. This is because, in India, the child leads a subservient life to the parent, and the notion that elders are the guiding lights to children is prevalent and unfortunately, often misused. This is further difficult to punish because many of these cases go unreported. However, in 2009, the Integrated Child Protection Scheme came into effect and has been trying to do good work in society by detailing existing laws, strengthening child protection at the family and community level, strengthen structures and personnel involved, raising awareness about child laws and abuse and also coordinating with NGOs and government institutions to implement schemes and laws pertaining to child abuse better.
All around the world, we have a very long way to go where protecting our children is concerned. The USA seems to have done the best job of outlining and specifying crimes against children and strive to uphold laws against them. In other countries, especially India, obstacles in the form of evil minded criminals, weak laws, bribery and corruption abound. There ARE laws in place, what needs to be done is to ensure they are upheld.