Prolonged conflict in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has led to many socio-economic problems, violations of children’s rights being one of them. In the valley, there has been a noticeable spike in crimes against children including violations of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, rape, and sexual assault.
Despite the fact that children account for half of the population in J&K, the Union Territory does not have a regional Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Children in Jammu and Kashmir are not provided exposure about forms of child sexual abuse due to which many victims are not able to report the abuse.
Also, it has become extremely difficult to capture data on sexual abuse because the action against the offence is confined to the registration of an FIR. Children who are sexually abused are on the verge of mental breakdown and they are in desperate need of psychological support and mental health counselling.
The lack of awareness and clear guidelines on the child sexual abuse in the valley leads to insensitive handling of such cases that only exacerbate the trauma of the victim.
In a recent incident which occurred on June 5 this year, a three-year-old child in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district was allegedly raped by her 13-year-old cousin and a case was lodged under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
In another incident, a fourteen-year-old girl in south Kashmiri’s Anantnag district complained of stomach-ache and Doctors were stunned to discover that she was eight months pregnant. The family of the girl accused a 35-year-old relative of raping her.
In the first case, the accused and victim, both were minor. It is not known as to what led him to rape his three-year-old cousin. It is clear here that the children were not provided with sex education. Moreover, it is still unknown if the boy was exposed to sexual content.
In the second case, the accused was an adult and the victim a minor. The victim was 8 months pregnant and it was a failure on the part of the family not to recognize the behavioral change in their child.
In both the cases, the accused persons were not strangers and took advantage of the insensitive approach demonstrated by certain families towards their children. In such a setting, a survivor is supposed to compromise his/her mental health.
The victims of child sexual abuse in Kashmir are not speaking up because of the lack of awareness and support. According to the American Psychiatric Association, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the incident, shock and denial are typical. Long term effects include flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms in certain cases. Some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.
Parents are the source of comfort and support for the children and they can play a major role in freeing their children, who are sexually abused, from the burden of guilt and shame by letting them know that it was not their fault that they have been sexually abused.
To tackle the situation, the legal authorities should provide training to police with regard to the handling of child sexual abuse victims.
Also, the police should hire clinical psychologists and make them available to assist the officers in child sexual abuse cases.
In schools, sex education should be made mandatory and every school should appoint a counsellor for the purpose. At home, parents should identify behavioral changes in the children and in no case they should be left unattended. In addition, the family should not compel the victims of child sexual abuse to share their experience, in the absence of a clinical psychologist.