IMA UNICEF Initiative in child sexual abuse
Ten points about child sexual abuse every doctors must know
1. In the world, on average 18% of girls and 8% of boys have suffered sexual abuse. In India, around 53% of children have suffered from sexual abuse (Study by Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2007).
2. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, defines a child as any person below the age of 18. The Act applies to all cases of sexual assault of a child.
3. Doctors are in a unique position to protect children from sexual assault and its consequences. They can:
Teach parents about safe, unsafe and uncomfortable touch and how to keep their children safe.
Teach children how to protect themselves.
They can provide appropriate care and treatment to the survivor.
They can give social, psychological and legal guidance to the survivor and the family.
They can help the process of justice delivery by conducting accurate and complete forensic medical examination and be willing to testify in court.
4. In the Indian social context, the sexual abuse of children goes unreported due to fear of stigmatization. Hence, the POCSO Act provides for mandatory reporting as per which any adult who is aware that a child has been sexually assaulted or is at risk of being sexually assaulted must report this to the appropriate authorities, i.e., the nearest police station or Special Juvenile Police Unit.
5. Every case of sexual assault is a medical emergency. Treatment has to be provided free of cost by government as well as private medical facilities.
6. No police or magisterial requisition is required to examine or provide emergency medical care to a person who has been or may have been sexually assaulted.
7. In a case of sexual assault of a child, it is the legal duty of a doctor to give medical care, collect forensic evidence, report the offence to the police and give testimony in court if required.
8. Informed consent must be obtained from the survivor (or his or her guardian, where the child is below 12 years of age) before the medical examination. Where such consent is not given the examination cannot be performed and informed refusal is documented.
9. Under Section 166B of the IPC, a doctor who refuses to perform a medical examination in a case of sexual assault can be punished with imprisonment up to one year and/ or fine.
10. Doctors should prominently display the Childline number (1098) in their clinics and hospitals. Any case of known or suspected child abuse or neglect can be reported to this number.