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Endemic Child Abuse

It is offenders who carry social stigma, not victims

THE allegations of molestation of girl students by a teacher of a government high school at Kundaim have once again brought back the vulnerability of children to sexual abuse into focus, calling for wider public support for victims and stronger action on allegations of such nature by managements of organizations. The management of the Kundaim government high school deserves appreciation for taking firm and prompt action on the allegations of the five girl students. The complaints of outraging of modesty of students by the concerned teacher in the school would have gone unreported but for the counseling session on the school campus which helped in bringing them out. The school management set up an inquiry by an internal committee of five teachers under the Visakha guidelines that found substance in the girls’ allegation. Subsequently the school management reported the matter to the police who arrested the teacher on Wednesday under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, Section 10 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and various sections of Goa Children’s Act. The quick action against the alleged molester has emboldened more girl students to come forward with similar complaints against him.

This is not the first time complaints of sexual abuse have surfaced against a school teacher in the state. And schools are not the only place where child sexual abuse happens. It is a subject whose prevalence in different environments is known to people, but very few talk about openly, the least of all the victims themselves, because they are scared of the consequences. There have been complaints of sexual misconduct against teachers in the past, but not all got the punishment they deserved. It is rare for children and their parents to stand up against teachers accused of sexual abuse. Even as the police probe is on into the accusations against the Kundaim teacher, parents of some children of the school have aired a theory that the arrested teacher was a “victim of conspiracy hatched by the headmaster of the school.” These parents are apparently trying to belittle the complaints of girl students by alleging a conspiracy. Can a headmaster be so powerful, ingenious and devilishly successful as to get a number of girl students (and their parents) to put their dignity at stake by making them a part of his intrigue to defame a teacher? The theory of conspiracy looks prima facie a highly callous and motivated.

The first major case of child abuse in the state was reported in the 1990s. The Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the case, booked German national Freddy Peats and three others, Werner Ingo of Australia, MacBride Owens of New Zealand and Nills Johnson of Sweden. Peats was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. All the foreign nationals were accused of molesting hundreds of orphaned children at a shelter home for 17 years till April 1991. Civil society groups say sexual abuse of children goes on in Goa. They point out that solo domestic male tourists were in the needle of suspicion for involvement in paedophilia.

That child abuse is continuing is supported by the statistics made available by Goa police’s victim assistance unit. Their data has revealed that over 50 child abuse cases are reported in Goa every 2-3 months. Child sexual abusers do not victimize only female children but also male children. According to official figures, 56 per cent of the victims of sexual abuse in Goa were girls and 44 per cent boys. The abusers are family members, relatives, neighbours and other known people. The good sign is that unlike in the past when cases were hushed up to avoid social stigma, the number of cases reported to police has shown a rise. Child abuse is endemic in society. Not all cases of child abuse are reported. The police and other government departments, such as women and child development, should work with trade and social organizations and activist groups to deepen awareness among children and parents of the importance of reporting sexual abuse. The children and parents need to be told that it is not the victim who will carry social stigma. On the contrary, it is the offender who will suffer social stigma.

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