Kerala has to urgently intervene to prevent sexual violence against children. The number of cases registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) has increased from 1,002 in 2013 to 2,093 in 2016. The Union women development ministry says 53 per cent of children in the country have been sexually tortured. This data from 2007 does not include the harassment at the cyberspace.
Sexual offenses against children is a heinous act. Sexual assaults in childhood scar a person for life. It can even affect their professional productivity as adults. The sexual offenses against children cause a 2 per cent dent in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), studies have shown.
Children are supposed to be safe in their houses. Shockingly, sexual torture is rampant in houses.
Experts vouch for the "No, Go, Tell" method as the most effective in countering sexual offenses against children. Children should be trained to say "No" when someone tries to molest them. In most of the cases, the children are harassed by their close relatives or acquaintances.
When the offense goes unreported, it encourages the perpetrators to seek out more victims, studies have shown.
The child has to be told to 'Go' to a safe place when faced with a tormentor. The child should also be taught to 'Tell' the parents about any intrusion to privacy. It is important for the parents to let the children know that they completely trust them and the child is not to be blamed for any harassment.
Parents have to tell the children about body parts in simple language that they can understand. They have to be told which part can be touched and by who (like parents when they bathe the child or doctors when they examine the child in front of the parents).
Parents have a duty to face the harasser legally and to expose him in society. Avoid any contact with the child and the tormentor.
Schools have to install complaint boxes to prevent sexual advances against students. The special committees have to be empowered. The village-level vigilance committees should be made more active. The child welfare officer in police stations should be made more efficient.
Any sexual advance against a child has to be reported to the police at the earliest, according to section 19 of the POCSO Act. Failing to do so could be punished with imprisonment of up to one year, according to section 21 of the Act.
Silence is not an option when children are molested. Families tend to cover up such issues. This silence will embolden the perpetrator to repeat his crimes.
There can't be anymore delay in stopping this heinous crime.
(The writer is the chief of UNICEF for Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The views are personal)