India houses 40% of children in its total population but is ranked as the 6th most unsafe country for children. There is a myth that boys can’t be sexually used or abused. Thus, it comes as a shock when in 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, conducted a study to understand the magnitude of child abuse in India, and they found that 53.22% of children faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; among them, the number of boys abused was 52.94%. Henceforth, it is safe to say that Sexual abuse and crimes have no gender.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, (the POCSO Act) 2012 was brought after the alarming survey by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare which pointed out that the percentage of sexually abused male children was more than the percentage of female victims. The Act attempts to plug the loopholes that were present in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 with respect to sexual abuse of children, especially boys in India. It defines different forms of sexual abuse including penetrative assault, non-penetrative assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The primary feature of this legislation was to ensure the existence of a child-friendly environment for the victims during the proceedings and even after the completion of the proceedings. The POCSO Act is gender-neutral and provides for stringent punishment to the offenders. For the first time in India, there existed a statute that recognizes the fact that boys too are victims of sexual abuse.
The Supreme Court in Alakh Alok Srivastava vs U.O.I. 2018 SCC 478, opined as follows: “The POCSO Act is gender-neutral. It does not, therefore, discriminate or distinguish between a boy and a girl, as victims of sexual offences. The jurisprudence that has developed, concerning the testimonies of girl-victims, as witnesses would apply, so far as the POCSO Act is concerned, mutatis mutandis to boy-victims.”
Factors such as mandatory reporting; support provided to the child and family when journeying through the criminal justice system; and acknowledgement of the significance of child protection has led to various cases of sexual abuse against boys being disclosed in courts and reported by media.
- In Minor Through Guardian Zareen vs State; the Delhi High Court enhanced the compensation granted to the victim to Rs. 3,00,000/-. The fact of the case is that the victim was a 13- year old minor boy who was called outside his classroom by 4 students. They abducted him, took him to a jungle, attacked him and committed brutal sexual assault on him. Initially, the victim did not disclose this incident, but later he told his mother and the medical examination confirmed brutal sexual assault.
- In Tej Kumar vs State, a 6-year-old boy was abused in a public toilet. The Delhi High Court sentenced the accused to undergo rigorous imprisonment for ten years and pay a fine of Rs.10,000/-.
- In Sunil Raikwar vs The State, the Delhi High Court refused to quash the FIR where a 7-year-old boy was sodomised by the accused who lived in the same building as the victim just because the father of the victim and accused has reached some sort of compromise. The Court remarked that “We cannot lose sight of the fact that the accused is being prosecuted for an offence that shocks the value system of a society and this is not a matter that can be permitted to be settled as a compoundable minor offence.”
- In State NCT Of Delhi vs Laxmi Kant Tiwari, a Pandit Ji known to the 13-year-old victim boy asked him questions relating to his puberty, where the hair was growing on his private part or whether any white liquid comes out. He touched the minor boy’s penis by his hand and asked the victim to suck it. The learned Sessions Judge granted the accused the benefit of the doubt and acquitted him. The Delhi High Court noted that 3 victim boys have been subjected to sexual harassment by the accused and put the judgment of the trial court aside. The accused was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for 3 years and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/-
- In Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvannamalai, a 32 years old female teacher was arrested for sexually assaulting her male students for three years. An article published in the Times of India says that “The woman used to lure the boys, promising to buy them gadgets such as mobile phones, and sexually assaulted them on many occasions in the school and at home during tuition. She had even taken them to secluded spots and allegedly captured pictures and videos of their intimate moments.”
- An article published in India Today says that the Principal and three Teachers of Kendriya Vidyalaya were booked for sexually harassing a Class XI boy student. It says, “According to the Police, the boy was stripped and sexually harassed by the three teachers under the guise of frisking whether he was having a mobile phone.”
“Crime in India” 2019 report by The National Crime Record Bureau revealed that registration of cases under the POCSO Act has increased by 18.9 per cent. While, of the 26,192 cases filed under POCSO Act that has rape charges, 25,934 were girls, and only 258 were boys. Even after the implementation of POCSO (gender-neutral law), it can be seen that there is a very low rate of reporting and help-seeking among victims of sexually abused boys in India. There can be many reasons for the same:-
- The patriarchal nature of Indian society leads to very different expectations from boys and girls. Boys were expected to be “men” hence not cry or complain when abused. Our society follows a system where a boy is not allowed to be vulnerable. It is expected of a man to be a ‘protector and not a ‘victim’,
- The social construct of Indian society had unethical expectations for young boys to overcome the harmful effects of sexual abuse of childhood without treatment.
- Our conservative society does not talk about sex at all. Boys are scared to talk to their parents about being sexually abused for fear of being labelled as homosexual. This silence encourages the abusers to continue the abuse
The subject of sexual abuse of boys is still taboo in India. It is imperative to start undoing the conditioning that men can hurt but cannot be hurt. It is this conditioning responsible for taking an issue like child sexual abuse and made it a boy/girl issue–when in reality it is a children’s issue.
– Vaishali Jain, Advocate & Associate – POSH at Work