The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mom & dad in dock for child abuse

Mumbai, June 25: When three-year-old Ketan Rana came to school covered with bruises, his teachers suspected something was wrong. What they never imagined, till Ketan (name changed) broke down and told them, was that the abusers were his parents.

The parents, described as a well-off couple from Worli, have been summoned to a city court.

“The teachers and the school principal have confirmed the child had marks on his body,” said Santosh Shinde, an official of the state government’s child welfare committee (CWC).

“The child has been sent home for now but our counsellors will keep track of him till the case comes up for hearing. I can only tell you the child is from a good family and the school is a renowned one.”

Shinde said he had never heard of such a case before, but a recent survey by the Centre has revealed that two of every three Indian children face physical abuse — a majority of them from their parents.

The study by the Union women and child development ministry says most of the abused children are victims of family members. Of this group, nine out of 10 are abused by their parents — 50.9 per cent by their mothers and 37.6 per cent by their fathers. But most cases go unreported.

After Ketan’s admission, Bal Prafullata, a city-based NGO associated with the school, had contacted the committee. The CWC sent a notice to the parents last Wednesday on behalf of the Juvenile Justice Court, which will hear the case on Thursday.

Shinde, however, confessed: “We are yet to speak to the child or meet the parents, but once they appear in court, we’ll know the whole picture.”

The cloak of secrecy — neither the CWC nor the NGO would name the parents or the school — means the reason for the abuse and its nature could not be ascertained.

The law in India doesn’t punish parents for beating their children. The Centre is working on a new law to change that but wants a national debate first because similar bills abroad have run into rough weather.

The Offences Against Children Bill says first offenders may be let off against a surety but for severe or repeated abuse, the parents can be jailed for up to seven years and fined Rs 3,000 or more.

If the CWC or the court feels Ketan would be better off away from his parents, it can send him to a welfare home — but only for a period.

“The law doesn’t terminate parents’ rights over their children at any point. When the committee feels it fit, the child has to go back to his parents,” said former CWC chairperson Nilima Mehta. “But the CWC has counsellors who work with the parents.”

Sometimes, parents’ ambitions may lead to a form of child abuse, such as forcing four and seven-year-olds to run 70-80km before TV cameras. In Bengal’s Raiganj last April, a 14-year-old girl had told police her parents had been forcing her to dance to film songs at public shows for six years. They thrashed and starved her if she refused.

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