Majority of the perpetrators are family members or someone known to the child
Within 11 monthstimespan this year, RENEW received 35 cases of sexual abuse against children, a contrast from 7 cases of sexual abuse against children received last year.
In addition, RENEW also received 2 to 3 cases of allegation of child abuse from maids. However, it was provenas sexual harassment and not as rape.
Child abuse can be categorized as a single incident or can be a number of different incidents that take place over time. There are four types of child abuse; physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
In line with this, Executive Director of RENEW, Tandin Wangmo, said thatalthough there are more cases of child abuse being report nowadays, however, it doesn’t mean that it is a new issue. “This (child abuse) must have been in the communities from before, it is just that people have not come forward to report. This can be due to lack of awareness and can be also because we are very tolerant society,” the Executive Director said.
According to RENEW, there are cases where both parties come to a compromise within themselves, not realizing that it is a criminal offence and not knowing the long term effect it is going to have on the child.
“Now with the government and NGOs doing lots of awareness programs, and now that we have legal provisions in place, people are becoming more aware of the support system in place. And this is why we feel that the number of reported cases are increasing,” she added.
She said it is the duty of the parents of children to recognize and ensure that their children are kept out of situations that could put them at risk.
Citing as an example, she said that parents in the rural areassend their children to urban areas to live with their relative with the good intention to have their children gain better access to education and exposure to a better life. However, without proper parental care, such kinds of situation put the children at a risk of child abuse.
Such risks are also borne by school children living in rental houses nearby schools due to long distanceto reach schools and lack of boarding facilities. Thereby, children have to be on their own with no proper supervision and guidance. “In such cases, people tend to take advantage of the situation,” she added.
She said that there have been incidences whereby the school children, especially girls who have to walk home for 1 to 2 km, faced abuse on the way.
According to RENEW, the majority of the perpetrators in the child abuse cases are related to or well known to the child. The abuse is happening within the family and by people in the circle of trust. “It is always a father, stepfather, uncle and cousins. If we go beyond the family, it’s someone who is close to the family. It is hardly ever that a stranger would abuse the child,” she added.
Therefore, it is becoming more challenging and heartbreaking at times, she said, these are the people who should be supporting, be trustworthy and protective rather than abusing children.
When it comes to challenges, she said that the biggest challenge is on the reporting side where the younger victim fails to express the abuse ordeal, for reasons thateither the child is too traumatized to share it or that the child is not very aware of the gravity of the situation.
“They are unable to share to the parents and this had happened to children between the age of 6 to 9 years. Normally, the sexual abuse acts are discovered by the mothers when the child reports of a pain, or blood stain on their underwear and when the garment is soiled,” she added.
By then, she said that it is too late, in a way that the evidences are already destroyed and by the time mothers report to RENEW or a hospital, they are unable to gather enough evidence to prove that the particular perpetrator is the one that the child is pointing to.
“When we take such cases to court, it has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. When we lose evidence, we have to completely rely on circumstantial evidence and it is very challenging when it is a younger child who reported the case, whereby it is difficult to ascertain the exact incidence,” she added.
On the other hand, the victims betweenage 15 to 18 years also face similar challenges. In such situation, she said, the mother who knows the male perpetrator tend to negotiate and they settle within themselves so as to ‘save the individual’s dignity and name.’
However, she said that they let the perpetrator go without realizing that the man has abused the child. They just let him go without holding him accountable for the crime and what he has done wrong and not realizing that he could do the same to other children as well.
“If we don’t hold them accountable for the criminal offence then there is the risk to the whole community,” she added.
Meanwhile, she said that it is not the sole responsibility of the government, NGOs or service providers. Every single parentis responsible to ensure that they do not leave their children in a situation where they could be abused.
“Your children are not safe with anyone. If we look at the caseswe have caught, where the fathers have abused their daughters, grandfather abused his granddaughter and uncles abusing their nieces. Even sons are not safe, and therefore, parents has to be extra careful in the first place,”she said.
It is the collective responsibility of the policy makers to make sure that stringent policies are in place where a man, in whatever state of his mind, will never dare to commit such kind of crimes, Executive Director of RENEWsaid.
People will have fear if there is stringent law in place, she said, adding that the law enforcement agencies have been doing their best, and making the fight against child abuse their top priority. The penalty (sentence term) is high on the offences committed to a child below the age of 12 years. While on the other hand, when the child gets older, the sentence becomes lower.
She said a forensic unit in the country is required to make sure that DNA evidence can be tested without delay so that people don’t get away after committing such crimes.