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CHILDREN ON CROSSROADS

According to researchers at Stanford University and the University of California-


Santa Barbara, stories about crime and violence make up 40 per cent of the child-
related newspaper coverage. Though we do not have similar statistics and
research-based analysis on Indian children, situation is alarming in India also.

University of California also found “a general lack of public policy coverage”


related to children in the sources studied. In this behalf, the Indian situation is
worse because our television and newspaper presentations on children’s issues
hardly mention, much less focus on policy issues that affect children.

Nor are the age groups clearly marked in the newsier articles and television
discussions. It is the adolescents mostly who get the media attention.

In news coverage of children the emphasis is on reports of crime, with children


portrayed as both victims and perpetrators of violence. Such an emphasis
diminishes the public’s perception of the relative importance of other child-
related concerns.

A child who experiences any kind of maltreatment—neglect, physical or sexual


abuse—is likely to get involved with the juvenile justice system.
It’s not clear how many youths under 18 are tried in adult criminal courts in this
country. Cases of three-year old charged with rape and murder have been
reported in newspapers.

It is no consolation that brutalisation of children is a world wide phenomenon. In


India, situation is as bad as anywhere else but cases of child abuse do not get
reported.

Peculiar to India is female foeticide or selective abortion based on the foetus


gender or sex selection of child. This is a crime perpetrated against the yet-to-be
born girl child. Often, parents themselves are responsible for committing this
crime. Besides, domestic violence too affects children badly. Children get
physically abused or hurt at home or get mentally damaged while witnessing
violent fights between parents and among relatives. Children some times
intervene to protect the adult victim, endangering themselves. Children also copy
the violent adult behaviour they witness at home and elsewhere and they, thus,
expose themselves to stress-related problems. They lose self-confidence or
develop guilt complex blaming themselves for the violence at home, especially
between parents.

Unlike the laws of many other countries, Indian Penal Code makes no distinction
between child sexual abuse from rape or molestation or other kind of crime. In
fact, the laws against child sexual abuse are only in their developing stage. Some
parts of the law applicable to sexual abuse of a child are related to sale, hire,
distribution, or circulation of obscene objects of literature to children.
Several movements have been started to initiate amendments to the penal code,
adding specific crimes for sexual abuse. But, in an increasingly violent society,
laws are no succour to the innocent victims of crime and violence.

In sum, rape and sexual abuse of children in India is a large problem not easy of
solution. India’s corrupt and weak legal system renders the problem even larger.

However, the situation can be improved by appropriately educating children and


adults on crime and violence, and educating the police, law officers and judges to
be more sensitive toward social issues.