Child sexual abuse: An overview


  • The Supreme Court has ordered a nationwide inquiry into how many child sex abusers had actually been punished.


  • The apex court gave the High Courts four weeks to submit the data to the Supreme Court Registry.
  • The Apex courts order came as an eight-month –old rape survivor from Delhi battles for her life at the AIIMS.
  • A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, ordered data from the High Courts on the number of pending cases of child abuse booked under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

Key facts:

  • India is home to the largest child population in the world, with almost 42 per cent of the total population under eighteen years of age.
  • Statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau reveal that there has been a steady increase in sexual crimes against children.
  • According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, over half of the children surveyed reported having faced some form of sexual abuse.

What is child sexual abuse?

  • The definition of child sexual abuse is broader than most people realize. Child sexual abuse is a criminal offense punishable by law in many societies. It includes:
  • Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other.
  • Forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act.
  • Non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet.
  • Abusers often form relationships with potential victims and their families prior to the abuse. This is called “grooming.”
  • Grooming is a process by which an offender gradually draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. At the same time, the offender may also fill roles within the victim’s family that make the offender trusted and valued.

Pending case:

  • The 2016 data of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) said that only 11 per cent of the total of 1,01,326 POCSO cases have been decided by the trial courts in that year, which meant that 89 per cent of the cases were still pending across the country.
  • There was a 95% pendency rate, as per the Statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau.

Reasons for low conviction rates:

  • One of the reasons for low conviction rates is the vast majority of victims turning hostile.
  • Lack of child-friendly procedures.
  • Challenges related to age-determination.
  • Poor appreciation of the testimony of the child adversely affects the conviction rate.
  • Majority of child sexual abuse goes unreported.
  • Only a fraction of the incidences of sexual abuse against children enter the criminal justice system, amongst which only a minuscule fraction end in a conviction.
  • Only about a third of child sexual abuse incidents/cases are identified, and even fewer are reported.
  • Researchers estimate that 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused.
  • Lack of adequate information.

Impacts of sexual abuse on children:

The impact of child sexual abuse is devastating not only survivors, but also affects the people around them. Some of these impacts are given below:

  • Any type of sexual abuse severely impacts the physical and mental development of child.
  • Obesity and eating disorders are more common in women who have a history of child sexual abuse.
  • Sexual behavior problems and over-sexualized behavior are a very common consequence of child sexual abuse.
  • Academic problems in childhood are a common symptom of sexual abuse.
  • The risk of teen pregnancy is much higher for girls with a history of child sexual abuse.
  • Mental health problems are a common long-term consequence of child sexual abuse.
  • Adult survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to become involved in crime, both as a perpetrator and as a victim.
  • Emotional difficulties such as anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem
  • Mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),  self harm, suicidal thoughts
  • Disturbing thoughts, emotions and memories that cause distress or confusion.

Laws dealing with child sexual abuse cases:

Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) :

  1. The act came into effect on Children’s Day, November 14, 2012.
  2. The Act provides a graded classification of sexual offences against children, prescribes higher mandatory minimum sentences for such crimes, mandates several processes and safeguards to ensure a child-friendly trial such as the designation of “special courts”, child-friendly process of recording victim testimony, provision of compensation, protection of the identity of the child, etc.
  3. It defines a child as any individual below 18 yr and provides protection to all children from sexual abuse

Salient features of POCSO

  1. It is gender neutral.
  2. It makes the reporting of abuse mandatory.
  3. It makes the recording of sexual abuse mandatory.
  4. It lists all known types of sexual offences towards minors.
  5. It provides for the protection of minors during the judicial process.

Loopholes in the POSCO act:

There are some criticiums involved in the POSCO act due to which child sexual abuse problem still not able address. Some of these loopholes in the act are given below:

Critical analysis:

Why the POSCO act is ineffective in dealing with the problems of child sexual abuse?

  • The POCSO Act, 2012 does not recognize consensual sexual acts among children or between a child and an adult. And this is where the problem lies – especially in societies where legal literacy is poor.
  • Police is highly mistrusted which makes such legislation ineffective.
  • Police harassment continues diluting effective functioning of special efforts by government.
  • Act focuses more towards punishment and lies absent at reformation efforts toward convicts.
  • Lack of medical professionals in remote areas.
  • Many loopholes in the act like issue of consenting activities, unwillingness of victim to provide testimony etc.
  • No provision of police training to deal sensitive cases of children.
  • No councelling available for children to recover the post crime trauma.
  • It emcompasses the biological age of the child and silent on the mental age considerations so many victims of cerebral palsy are not taken care of.
  • Exclusion of people with mental age below 18, as only biological age is considered in the act.

Measures to prevent sexual abuse of children:

Measures needed to prevent sexual abuse of children are given below:

  • Parents should closely and carefully observe the behavioral changes of their children.
  • Making stricter legislation against offenders.
  • At school level, authorities should check the background and credentials of the job applicants.
  • Children should be made aware of acts like POSCO so as to make them aware of their legal right.
  • CCTV camers can be installed in schools.
  • Community awareness program should be encouraged to increase awareness among children about the evil of sexual abuse.
  • Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) Act can be amended to allow Child Welfare Committees to receive complaints.
  • Media should play a proactive role and should be prohibited from disclosing the personal identity of the victim categorically in line with the Juvenile Justice Act.
  • Media should be prohibited from reporting the identity of the victim categorically in line with the Juvenile Justice Act.
  • Issues like child marriage should be clearly addressed as there is contradiction between POCSO Act and personal law.


  • Children are the future of the nation and it is needed that they should be prevented from the various types of abuses in school. Plugging gaps in justice system, not death penalty, can curb child sexual abuse.
  • There is an urgent need to urgently devise ways to bolster the existing criminal justice and child protection systems and ensure higher convictions, higher reporting of offences, put in place preventive strategies, and address a large number of systemic and operational gaps. There is also need to revamp the POSCO act.


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