All that Sonu (13, name changed) wanted was to spend some time with his mother, a sex worker. One day, while his mother was away, a man entered and closed the door behind, started fondling his private parts and sodomised Sonu — causing him injury, pain and life-time trauma. Sonu ran away from his home and landed up in a crowded, shabby and terribly mis-managed institution. Sonu was one of the 18,200 respondents in a survey by the National Study on Child Abuse team. Among the various forms of child abuse —physical, emotional, economic, drugs and girl child neglect, the most startling findings were about sexual abuse.
Among 12,447 children and 2,511 young adult respondents, over 50 per cent disclosed having experienced different types of sexual abuse ranging from fondling and forcible kissing, violation of privacy, pornography, sexual exposure and exploitation, to sodomy, rape and child prostitution. For male victims of child abuse the only legal remedy available in India is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Court (IPC) that provides against unnatural offences i.e. voluntarily having ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal’. The National Study on Child Abuse forms a basis for legislations and policy formulation to protect children and must be considered.
Hence Health Minister A Ramadoss’s announcement at the International Aids Conference in Mexico City suggesting deletion of Section 377 IPC appears to be a one-sided affair, even contradicting the Ministry of Home Affairs’ view, which believes that it would open the floodgates of delinquent behaviour and take away the solitary legal course to prosecute the child abusers in India. Enthusiastic supporters of homosexuality in India, it appears, have not carefully examined the legal provisions, their implications and the actual application on the ground. Enforcement of this law pertaining to unnatural sexual offences is so half-hearted, albeit insignificant, that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has no collective data on this. However, Delhi Police Crime Records Bureau that covers a population of over 17 million, reports an annual average of about 80 cases, over 80 per cent being registered in favour of sexually assaulted children and practically none that may concern our ‘harassed’ gay community. Legally, socially and psychologically, one has to define and understand the issues before we take a stand on the subject.
Since, the Health Minister has pleaded for deletion of the legal provision that protects all male children and adults of India against sexual assaults and the issue is already in the public domain, the views of the experts, stakeholders, concerned citizens and the voluntary organisations working for the Protection of Child Rights must be elicited. One has to examine whether the arguments being advanced on behalf of homosexuals stand legal and experts’ scrutiny; whether this move has wider societal approval; whether the deletion of Section 377 will protect the gay community in their public demonstration of sexual practices, considered a private affair in the civilised world.
It is in interest of all that through legislations, policy pronouncements, national and international commitments to protect children from abuse and exploitation, India's government and civil society will take a considered view on the matter instead of being swayed by a small number of activists.
Amod K. Kanth is General Secretary, Prayas Juvenile Aid Centre Society.