Child Abuse was and continues to be, one of the most heinous crimes designed and perpetuated by human beings against some of the most vulnerable and defenceless sections of the community. It is a malaise on a society that prides itself on the rule of law, democracy and the various freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Globally, it has been recognised and seen as a particularly burdensome challenge, and numerous instruments, from the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the The Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action have called upon nation States to create and enhance Child Protection Systems to ensure that “in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
According to the World Health Organisation, “Child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional illtreatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation”.
Sexual abuse is defined as the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Children can be sexually abused by both adults and other children who are – by virtue of their age or stage of development – in a position of responsibility, trust or power over the victim. In India, Child Abuse occurs in various spaces including the home, neighbourhood, schools, and temporary homes of shelter for abandoned and neglected children, railway platforms, jails and refugee camps. The problem is deep rooted and is one that the community is hesitant to accept and acknowledge.
The Constitution of India guarantees several rights to children and enables the State to make provisions to ensure that the tender age of children is not abused. Even though India is a signatory to a host of International Covenants and Instruments focusing on Child Protection, these along with the existing domestic legal mechanisms have not been able to provide the necessary systems which could prevent child abuse. The 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2016) of the Ministry of Women & Child Development has unequivocally stated that “Strict measures are required to ensure that abuse of the child for sexual purposes is prevented”. The new National Policy for Children, 2013, recognizes that “childhood is an integral part of life with a value of its own”. One of the key priorities of the Policy mandates the State to “create a caring, protective and safe environment for all children, to reduce their vulnerability in all situations and to keep them safe at all places, especially public spaces” and “protect all children from all forms of violence and abuse, harm, neglect, stigma, discrimination, deprivation, exploitation including economic exploitation and sexual exploitation, abandonment, separation, abduction, sale or trafficking for any purpose or in any form, pornography, alcohol and substance abuse, or any other activity that takes undue advantage of them or harms their personhood or affects their development” Despite the best intentions and plans in place, as well as two comprehensive legislations for the protection of children, The Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012, instances of child abuse have been known to occur in our schools, homes for children and other child care institutions as also in the child’s own residence. Of the total crimes against children in India, Delhi accounts for 11.6% of crimes and 4.8% of rape committed on children. It is in this context that in October, 2012, Hon’ble Chief Minister of NCT of Delhi Smt. Sheila Dikshit had convened a meeting on the issue and, thereafter, a decision was taken for putting in place comprehensive guidelines for the prevention of child abuse which would address the occurrence of such instances in all institutions, whether residential or educational, religious or charitable, registered or non-registered which deal with the care and protection of children in any manner.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights took upon itself the task of formulating these guidelines which focus on sexual abuse. The guidelines not only address the requirement spelt out in Rule-31 of the Delhi Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2009 but have also factored in the requirements of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The Commission followed the procedure of wide ranging consultations in the process of the formulation of these guidelines and took note of the views of all stakeholders, including the Police, Child Welfare Committees (CWC), NGOs, representatives of concerned departments and other legal experts/child right activists, as part of the consultation process. Since such guidelines for prevention of child abuse had not existed in any systematic manner either in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, other States or even at the central level, the DCPCR wanted to ensure that the guidelines are finalized in as thorough and well researched a manner as possible so that these are not only applicable for the National Capital but could serve as a model for other States and could be suitably adopted at the central level as well.
The guidelines have drawn upon the international best practices and have referred to the existing constitutional and legal framework relevant in combating child abuse. Keeping the objective of the best interest of the child in perspective, the guidelines have laid down certain broad guiding principles in the child protection safeguards proposed.