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A legal shield for him & her

india Updated: Mar 17, 2010 22:52 IST

Justice maybe a long time coming, but the heartening thing is that the law in India is constantly evolving to plug loopholes and correct imbalances. The latest is a draft bill that the home ministry is working on to broaden the terms of sexual crimes and make its provisions gender-neutral. The word rape is sought to be replaced with the term sexual assault in order that different forms of sexual abuse come under its umbrella.

This is important in two specific contexts. One, the courts have decriminalised homosexuality, which while being a positive step also brings rape among same sex partners under the purview of the law. The other is that there will be redressal for the boy child in cases of molestation.

A study by the ministry of women and child development shows that more boys suffer sexual abuse than girls and that one out of two children have suffered some form of molestation usually between the ages of 9 to 12. In the case of boys, only proven sodomy is an offence so far and does not take into account other forms of sexual offences or harassment. Already, the law has evolved mechanisms to lessen the trauma of child victims, providing them the means to have hearings at home. The same goes for women victims of sexual crimes.

So far, the definition of sexual crimes, particularly rape, has been in the context of women and the girl child. This seems to have led to a quantum increase in crimes against the boy child. In Delhi alone, a government study showed that far greater number of boys were abused than girls. This suggests that the boy child has little protection and that offenders have taken advantage of the gaps in the law. So far, the law has not taken other forms of sexual abuse, including verbal, seriously enough. This has encouraged offenders to get away with all manners of abuse short of rape. The next step is to sensitise the police, the first port of call for a victim, of the changes in the law and the need to treat all forms of sexual abuse seriously and in a gender-neutral manner.

The judicial system today is such that the victim is doubly traumatised, first by the perpetrator and then by the legal system. The earlier proposal to dispose of sexual crime trials in two to three months is yet to kick in. This could go a long way towards encouraging people to come forward and report such crimes. The legislation may take time to show results. But at least the government is taking proactive steps to draft a non-discriminatory framework on sexual assault.