Bill on child abuse prevention welcome, but existing laws urgently need teeth: experts

"While we do need the Prevention of Offences Against Children Bill 2009, the need of the hour is to improve the existing infrastructure, including better training and sensitisation programmes for the police and the medical staff in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse.

However setting up family courts for dealing with such cases can help immensely in the present scenario", said Ranjana Gaikwad from the Special Cell for Women and Child, government of Maharashtra, while speaking at a seminar on the prevention of child sexual abuse.

The seminar was organised by Muskaan, an initiative against child sexual abuse by Aalochana Centre for Documentation and Research on Women. Gaikwad said that while in other states like Haryana, the medical examination takes one or two days, in Maharashtra it takes more than five days, which further adds to the trauma of the child. Talking about a medical kit that has been designed by Sehat, a non-government organisation, she said that the medical staff needs to be trained in appropriate evidence collection methods.

Dr Raman Khosla, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist working with children and adolescents said, "In India, considering our socio-cultural dynamics, we are still not ready for mandatory reporting of cases of child sexual abuse as people who don't report will become criminally liable. While the Bill does talk about hotel and airport staff, it does not mention teachers and doctors."

"Also the new Bill proposes to raise the age of consent from 16 to 18. However people opposing the Bill are of the view that it ignores the social realities as today many people are sexually active even from the age of 14. Raising the age bar will mean criminalising even consensual sex," he further added.

Anuradha Sahasrabuddhe, member of the Juvenile Justice board, said, "Initiatives like Child Line, the 24 -hour helpline for children is a very positive step in this direction. Here people from various government departments have been assigned certain roles, including officials from BSNL, thus making sure that the 24 hour helpline actually works. Every city has an advisory board under Child Line. This model should be emulated to develop other emergency response teams."

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