“You have a daughter; her safety is of utmost importance. Boys can take care of themselves”
There is an unending silence around this subject and a very large percentage of people feel that child sexual abuse happens only to girls. Indian society has tried very hard to sweep the issue of child sexual abuse under the carpet.[i] Our patriarchal society holds males to be the stronger sex and expects men to be able to protect themselves. Many men who have survived child sexual abuse have been subjected to comments such as “Why didn’t you beat him up? You are a man!”. These people tend to forget that a male child is only a child.[ii]
According to the definition given by World Health Organisation, child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.[iii] However, much of our understanding of child sexual abuse has been, and to a large extent still is, restricted to viewing females as victims and males as perpetrators. To view the crime exclusively as a man violating a woman is an injustice to the large number of young boys who face the trauma of sexual abuse and are forced to keep quiet about it. In a democracy, no law can be formulated to regulate it unless the society recognizes the issue. In 2007 a report by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, supported by United Nations Children’s Fund, revealed that out of the total percentage of sexually abused children 52.94% are boys. Between 2007 and 2017, how much has the government done to make the male child safe? We had the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 which is gender neutral. That alone took five years! Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code has laws for outraging the modesty of a girl or a woman since 1860. What is taking us so long to accept that males can also have modesty?
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that rape is something that only a man can do to a woman. There is no room for male victims, let alone female perpetrators.[iv] Unfortunately, the only section of the IPC that deals with sexual assault on males is the infamous section 377 that makes sodomy an offence and is misused to perpetuate sexism and alienate the LGBT community. India’s laws should recognise that men can be raped too. Although child survivors of both sexes are covered under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, both POCSO and current rape laws under IPC rule out female perpetrators. An article published in India Today read “Teacher among four booked for sodomy in Muzaffarnagar” is just one more example of a stereotype that has remained firmly ensconced in Indian parlance that males can be sodomised but not raped.[v]
An Indian TV show called Pehredaar Piya Ki tells the story of a 9-year-old who is married to a 22-year-old. The practice of young girls being married off to older men is not unheard of, but this show brings a new twist to inappropriate relationships[vi]; it normalises a relationship between a young boy and an adult woman with the implicit assumption of the sexual relationship that will exist between them, which is inherently deviant in its basic premise. The problem is that by normalising such relationships, we run the risk of teaching boys that it is okay to be drawn into predatory relationships, either sexual or emotional. The survivors of this abuse battle with guilt, conflict and self-esteem issues as adults. Young, pubescent boys are on the threshold of emotional and psychological maturity, but mentally are still vulnerable. Often, they do not even understand that they are the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of both male and female perpetrators.
For obvious reasons, children find it harder to speak out against an aggressor for fear of the perpetrator, psychological toll, and the extra layer of social taboo, where they are taught to be “tough”. The trauma of sexual abuse changes a young boy as a person and affects his adult life as well. It is time that we start accepting that boys too can be raped and help them overcome the psychological trauma of the abuse as well as bring their perpetrator to justice. Too many of India’s young boys suffer sexual abuse and our silence on the issue is criminal.
THE LEGAL ASPECT
“Sexual abuse is not gender specific, then why not talk to all kids about this?”
In the last year itself, two children 10 and 13 years of age committed suicide after being sexually abused. A fortnight later a 16-year-old boy complained about 15 boys who had been gang raping him for a year. As an aspect of gender violence, it has been constantly under-reported and under-recognised. The POCSO Act and the current rape laws under the Indian Penal Code leave out a large swathe of male victims, who cannot come forward for fear of stigma and a lack of legal recourse.[vii]
The potential for a change in law came in the wake of Nirbhaya’s gang-rape in 2012, which saw a huge increase in national attention towards the crime of rape. This is when male survivors began to speak out.
Inadequacy of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code:
Before the enforcement of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, the Indian Penal Code dealt with the cases of child sexual abuse. However the Indian Penal Code was full of loopholes in terms of sexual abuse of boys.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines rape as a crime which only a man can commit against a girl or a woman and had no provisions whatsoever for boys. Even section 376 which deals with punishment for rape is gender specific in terms of addressing males as perpetrators and females as victims. Even now, many activists argue that only members of one sex can rape and only the other can be raped, for rape is only ever patriarchal. Many people don’t even believe that boys or men can be raped. Even while making laws, as far as sexual abuse was concerned, males were the forgotten gender.
Section 377 is the only provision which is invoked when boy children are sexually abused. However, this section also holds a man to be the perpetrator and the concept of female perpetrators does not exist. Although forcible sex with a boy is an act of rape, the rape laws of the country under the Indian Penal Code do not cover it.[viii] Problematically, however this law makes no distinction between consensual and non-consensual sexual acts and does not consider sodomy as actual rape.
The ordinary criminal laws under the Indian Penal Code proved totally inadequate to protect the children, who are victims of sexual abuse. There were no specific provisions to address the issue of sexual abuse of boys. The Indian Penal Code provides that boys can only be sodomised and not raped. In 2013, however, the Centre passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 which substituted ‘sexual assault’ for ‘rape’ in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and made the crime gender-neutral from the aspect of both perpetrator and victim. While the recognition of male victims and female perpetrators was solved, the Amendment did not use the word ‘rape’, which was a significant omission and sticks to the notion that boys cannot be ‘raped’.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and exploitation of all children below 18 years of age. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 received the President’s assent on 19th June, 2012 and was notified in the Gazette of India on 20th June, 2012.
The POCSO Act, 2012 was brought about after the alarming survey by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare which pointed out that the percentage of sexually abused male children was more than the percentage of female victims. The Act attempts to plug the loopholes that were present in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 with respect to sexual abuse of children, especially boys in India. It defines different forms of sexual abuse including penetrative assault, non-penetrative assault, sexual harassment and pornography. The POCSO Act is gender neutral and provides for stringent punishment to the offenders.[ix] For example, aggravated penetrative sexual assault carries an imprisonment of no less than 10 years, which can be extended to imprisonment for life. For the first time in India, a statute recognizes the fact that boys too are victims of sexual abuse.
The Act has some remarkable positive features. It provides for the setting up of Special Juvenile Courts and appointment of Special Public Prosecutors for the speedy trial of the accused. The evidence of the child has to be recorded within 30 days and the trial has to be completed as far as possible, within a year.[x]
It also provides for a number of children friendly measures related to reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences. The attempt to commit a crime, even if not successful, is made liable to punishment. Also, failure to report a known offence is also considered abetment and is punishable by law.
Shortcomings of the POCSO Act, 2012:
On the whole the Act is a piece of landmark legislation in terms of dealing with cases of abuse of children. However, the Act still has major shortcomings with respect to sexual abuse of young boys.
The POCSO Act has totally neglected measures to be taken to prevent sexual abuse. Although the Bill is meant to protect children from sexual assault, harassment and pornography, there is nothing that refers to prevention of abuse. The Act only deals with actions to be taken after the child has suffered sexual violence.[xi]
Even the child who has been abused is obliged to report the matter. This is not a very child-friendly manner and for a lot of reasons including fear of reprisal, a child can refrain from reporting. In the case of boys it is worse since along with the trauma of being sexually abused he has to battle the stigma of not being ‘manly enough’.[xii]
The wording of the Act is such that a male bias can be read into it. The definition of penetrative sexual assault in Section 3(a) uses the masculine pronoun “he” to refer to the offender. This distinctly excludes women as offenders. What about women who engage in digital rape of boys or insert objects into the anus of male children? Or is penetrative sex applicable only to the use of the male organ?[xii]
There is an assumption among many people that sexual abuse is perpetrated only by men, this is not true. Even though most abusers are men, women also sexually abuse both male and female children.[xiv] Boys are not just sodomised, they are raped too. It is time to make provisions for boys getting raped and help them attain justice. It is better late than never.
There are certain myths that are prevalent in the Indian society which are huge obstacles to understanding of sexual abuse of boys and the healing of the victims.
Myth 1: Survivors of child sexual abuse are almost always girls.
Reality: Boys can also be survivors of child sexual abuse.
There is readily available data from across the country and the world that clearly states that boys are equally at risk. We are quoting statistics from the 2007 report of Ministry of Women and Child Welfare on child abuse in India to bust this myth.[xv]
- One in every two children interviewed (53.22%) reported being victims of one or more forms of sexual abuse that included severe and other forms. More than half (52.94%) of those who reported abuse were boys while 47.06% were girls.
- Of all the children reporting sexual assault (penetration of the anus, vagina or oral sex), 54.4% were boys.
- Out of the total child respondents, 14.5% reported incidents when someone made them fondle or touch their private body parts. Among these children, a majority (58.40%) were boys.
- A state-wise breakdown shows that 9 out of 13 (69%) states reported a higher percentage of sexual abuse among boys as compared to girls, with Delhi reporting a figure of 65.64%.
- When it comes to severe forms of sexual abuse, again 9 out of 13 states (69%) reported a higher percentage of sexual abuse among boys as compared to girls.
Myth 2: Boys can’t be sexually abused, and if one is, he can never be a “real man”.[xvi]
Reality: Boys can be sexually abused, and it has nothing to do with how masculine they are.
This myth implies that a boy who has been sexually abused will never be a “real man” because society expects males to be able to protect themselves. Boys are not men, they are children. They are weaker and more vulnerable than those who sexually abuse them, who use their greater size, strength and age to manipulate or coerce boys into unwanted sexual experiences. What happens to us as children doesn’t need to define us as adults.
Myth 3: If a female abused a boy, he was “lucky”.[xvii]
Reality: Women can sexually abuse boys. These boys are not lucky, but exploited and harmed.
This myth implies that not only can boys not be sexually abused by women, but that any sexual experience with women is a badge of honour. In reality, premature, coerced or otherwise abusive sexual experiences are never positive. Being sexually abused whether by males or females can cause a variety of physical, emotional and psychological problems. Often, boys don’t recognize that what happened to them was a form of sexual abuse or rape. Also, women can be perpetrators of sexual abuse as much as men.
When it comes to sexual abuse of boys, India needs to accept that boys face an equal risk of sexual abuse as girls and they too can be raped. Over the years, the changing legal framework has helped reduce the massively increasing problem of sexual abuse of boys in India. However, still a lot needs to be done. Our suggestions for reform are presented herein:
- Legislation is required to recognize sexual abuse of boys as an issue and to ensure that boys are protected from both male and female perpetrators.
- Changes should be made to the POCSO Act, 2012 to remove gender bias and to ensure that women should also be held liable for inflicting sexual abuse.
- Child help lines should be established so that male children can reach out to someone at least if they don’t want to discuss it with their families immediately.
- Victims must be taken to therapists to cope up with their trauma and to deal with misplaced ideas of masculinity that society has established in their minds.
- Counseling of parents should also be done to make them aware of sexual abuse of boys as a concept and how to help their sons deal with it.
- Media should help to promote the issue, just like Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate. It will create a large scale impact and awareness in the society.
“The burden of prevention has rested for too long on the shoulders of the little ones.”
The subject of sexual abuse of boys is still a taboo in India. Part of the reason is our conservative society that does not talk about sex at all. Boys are scared to talk to their parents about being sexually abused for fear of being labeled effeminate or even homosexual. Even if they do tell them, no complaints are filed in order to save the social image of the child and the family. This silence encourages abusers to continue the abuse. So long as societies believe the myths related to sexual abuse of boys and teach them to children from their earliest years, many boys harmed by unwanted sexual abuse won’t get the recognition and help they need. Only by challenging the society’s attitude, speaking out loud, bringing about reforms to the legislation can we help the victims overcome the effects of the abuse and to achieve the life he wants and deserves. It is time to break the silence.
- D. Gaur’s Indian Penal Code,( 6th ed., 2016)
- Ratanlal, Dhirijlal’s Indian Penal Code (33rd, 2016)
- Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012
- The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
- The Juvenile Act, 2000
- K. Bhasin’s, Paper on Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, Praiseworthy but Flawed Legislation, (17th December, 2012.)
- Shayan Dasgupta, Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse, IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science Volume 3 Issue 2 (2013).
This Article is written by Soumya Pradhan, Surbhi Grover3rd Year, B.B.A., LL.B. School of Law, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.
The manuscript was submitted for the National Seminar on Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Organised by Bengal Law College in association with RostrumLegal on February 17th & 18th, 2018.
[i] Shayan Dasgupta, Protection of Children from Sexual Abuse, IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science Volume 3 Issue 2 (2013).
[ii] Harish Iyer, Child Sexual Abuse: How Will Boys Heal If We Don’t Let Them Cry?, The Quint (02/08/17).
[iv] India’s law should recognize that men can be raped too, ccs.in, Available at https://ccs.in/indias-law-should-recognise-men-can-be-raped-too, last seen on 14/02/18.
[vi] Too many of India’s Young Boys Suffer Sexual Abuse And Our Silence is Criminal, www.buzzfeed.com, available at https://www.buzzfeed.com/kiranmanral/too-many-of-indias-young-boys-suffer-sexual-abuse-and-our?utm_term=.xqDwpZ9pX#.kdvpAYJA9, last seen on 13/02/18.
[vii] Supra 5.
[viii] Dr. Asha Bajpai, Child Sexual Abuse and Law, available at https://www.childlineindia.org.in/Child-Sexual-Abuse-and-Law.htm, last seen on 13/02/18.
[ix] V.K.Bhasin, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012: Praiseworthy but Flawed Legislation (17/12/2012).
[xv] Alarming: Stats Reveal Widespread Sexual Abuse of Boys in India, www.youthkiawaaz.in, available at https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2017/11/even-boys-need-protection-from-abuse-heres-what-the-data-shows/, last seen on 13/02/18.