Editorial: Keeping Children Safe

The rash of POCSO Act cases should have attracted wider social engagement

Readers would have noticed the unnerving frequency with which reports have been arriving about sexual offences being perpetrated on minors. That said, it also needs to be recognized that it is not as if sexual predators who prey on the young have suddenly been unleashed on Sikkim. It is more likely that now that there is a specific law – Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act – to charge such offenders with, the statistic is standing out more prominently now. What have also helped expose such violations are the awareness and sensitization sessions held at the school level where children are informed about the laws in place to help them and what kind of behavior is now considered a criminal offence. These sessions are necessary because in most instances, the victims don’t even understand that they are being abused or that there is an escape available for them. Speak to the cops who address such sensitization programmes and most of them will confirm that reporting of such crimes invariably goes up once the children learn that there is protection available to them from sexual offences. It is also possible that more of such cases are getting reported to the police than earlier, when they would either not be noticed at all or would be ignored or, worse still, settled. Readers would have also noticed that in several instances, it has been the teachers who have noticed the crime, rescued the child and reported the offence, and the society needs to collectively thank such teachers for looking out so earnestly for the young and for getting involved in their care beyond the confines of the classrooms. One needs to look at options of strengthening the hands of teachers more in handling such episodes and offering them more awareness sessions and training on how to handle such traumatic situations. It is also necessary now to establish a more robust counselor role/ post in schools across the state so that stronger defenses by way of proper awareness and counseling are provided to the young. With the right training, inspiration and support, these counselors can also become the first responders to best care for victims and their families. Yes, Sikkim has child protection officers now, but a teacher at the school, because s/he has been with the children and their families for longer, enjoys more trust which is essential in situations like these. It is also important for all those responsible for the care and protection of children to realize that most often – in up to 90% of the cases - sexual predators are people known to the kids; very often they are family members or people who have weaseled themselves close to the family to a level that others do not think twice before leaving children unattended around them. Uneasy and disturbing though it may be, accept that all children, including yours, are at risk primarily because society has preferred to look the other way when victims have been minors and the perpetrators someone with influence (within the family or in the society at large). This needs to change, and can happen only if a child’s safety is put first – above everything else. One should not be required to spell it out, but given that too many prefer to ignore this responsibility, here we underline it again – the safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. Every time a child molester is allowed to get away without a police case, those who “arranged” the compromise become complicit to the molestation or worse of the next victim. That is how this crime and culpability need to be projected for children to be kept safer. There is a lot more that we can do as families and a society to look out better for our children, but that can be easily Googled. What is important is for everyone to realize that too many children are falling in harms’ way for this to be left as a law & order situation. Societal involvement needs to be brought in, wider awareness generated and with that, stronger protections erected to keep the children safe.