A few days back I read that a father had impregnated his 15 year old daughter. His wife was aware of his acts. But she couldn’t do anything to protect her daughter. She was continuously threatened by her husband. When questioned by the police she confessed that she said she supported him because she was financially incapable. She was convinced that this was the best way to protect her daughter’s future and family’s reputation. On knowing the truth the society could have abandoned the daughter and the family (which would have affected the future of her other children as well).
The sexual intercourse between close relatives is referred to as incest. Certain cultures and tribes support incest. In Andra Pradesh, Menarikam marriage takes place where maternal uncle is married to his niece or marriage between cross cousins take place. Marriage between cross cousins is also allowed in Muslims, Zoroastrians and Jews. But in most cases incest is not consensual. In India crime of incest is considered a taboo and is seldom discussed.
Unfortunately it is not the offender but the victim who suffers the wrath of the society in such matters. When a child is raped or abused by her/his father, brother, uncle or any other close relative, her/he is also forced to continue the relation. The abuser usually threatens the child and convinces him/her that silence is the only resort he/she is left with. The child is continuously harassed and sexually abused by the perpetrator. It affects the child mentally, physically and psychologically. The mental agony may result in deterioration of health or diet. It is difficult for these victims to trust others in future.
A study by Tata Institute of Social Sciences points out that one out of three girls and one out of 10 boys had been sexually abused as a child. Fifty per cent of child sexual abuse occurs at home. 15 per cent were used for masturbation mostly by male relatives when they were less than 10 years old. Seventy- five per cent of the abusers were adult family members.
In India we do not have any specific legislation regarding “incest” whereas in many developed countries like U.S.A, Britain and Germany incest is treated as offense. The present Indian Law is insufficient to prevent child abuse. We have no specific law on child abuse. The Indian Penal Code recognizes rape and sodomy as an offence but it doesn’t treat child abuse specifically. Anything less than rape comes under the ambit of “outraging the modesty of a woman”, which is vague and open to interpretation. Moreover Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman) is a bailable offence and in many cases the accused may abscond easily. It only relates to women and therefore males cannot be protected under this section.
Although Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act deals with assault the punishment prescribed in it is only 6 months. Again Section 5 of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956 prescribes punishment for seven years for inducement of child into prostitution but it does not address child abuse. The abuse of boys is usually overlooked. Only Section 377 talks about unnatural acts under which offences like sodomy may be charged.
Sexual abuse by relatives must not be spared. In most cases the family supports both the victim and the offender. If the perpetrator is acquitted, then the victim may be again subjected to the same violence. Regular workshops must be organized at schools to educate the children of their rights. Counselling must be provided to the victims. We generally deny the presence of incest in our society. This encourages the offender to commit such crimes. He is often convinced that the societal pressure would never let his victim reveal the truth. The weakness and inability of the society to react has always resulted in more of such crimes. We definitely need stringent laws in this regard. But we also need the help of students, teachers, parents, neighbours, police, judiciary, lawyers etc for implementing them.