Monday, May 12, 2014

Minor Victims, Major Worries

One of the international days that passes unobserved in Sikkim is the “World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse” observed internationally on 19 November every year. Even as one may have reservations about the relevance of such days, they do at least serve the purpose of bringing attention to continuing problems and challenges. And the sexual abuse of children is a continuing worry for all societies including Sikkim. The issue will return to public discussions and media attention over the weekend with the arrest of a 63 year old repeat offender and the disturbing news of a 10-year-old having fallen victim to his depravity. Like always, the discussion will be more about the punishment that should be served up to the accused and people will undoubtedly want the severest of punishments; but in the uproar, like always, the need of the victim to receive counseling and support will be lost. And because the discussion will remain focused on the perpetrator and what he deserves, even the agencies concerned will invest their energies on this aspect of the case. While it is important that the investigation is clear and quick and the prosecution coherent and honest, it is urgently necessary to ensure that the young victim receives the care and support which will help her come to terms with the violence visited on her. She will need help through the investigation and prosecution phase because that comes attendant with its own day-to-day trauma of being medically examined, questioned, made to give statements to the police… an experience which delivers psychological distress which can prove too powerful for a 10-year-old mind to negotiate on its own. Since child sex abuse is no longer a rarity or aberration in Sikkim, it is perhaps time that the State and its people considered setting up a Collaborative Child Response Unit, which, as the name suggests, involves law enforcement agencies, NGOs, medical staff and government departments in the service of and to the aid of the victims ensuring that follow-up action, from medical aid to investigation to prosecution is child-focused, in that the child and her needs acquire primacy. Victims need long term psychotherapy and counseling, and this response needs to be codified as a law so that it becomes an automatic provision. Counseling, it needs to be added here, should also be provided to the entire family, not only to address the trauma, but also to prepare them for the family care that the victim will require.

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