Physically tortured minor girl accuses employer of abuse
DIMAPUR, NOVEMBER 6: The fading mehendi on her bruised and swollen little hands paint a pattern of vile reproach. The scars behind her ears scream of pain inflicted umpteen times. 17-year old Vivi (name changed), who till September this year was residing with an affluent family in Kohima as domestic helper, is apparently one among the many victims of child labour and child abuse in Nagaland.
The photos taken of the minor Naga girl on her arrival to Dimapur after she escaped from her employer’s home in Kohima, show pus-filled wounds, severely swollen hands, blood clots beneath her finger nails, fresh and old scars and various other signs of physical torture. The ugly swell on her hands and fingers are results of being battered with an iron pestle, as punishment for applying mehendi on her palm. The abuser, as Vivi claims in multiple recorded statements, is her employer, a woman – the main accused in a case that is currently under investigation.
Vivi’s medical examination report confirms that she was “physically tortured”, a Dimapur police source affirmed. A FIR was lodged by the victim on November 2, at the Dimapur Women Police Station, with the help of Child Welfare Committee (Dimapur), a statutory body under the Government of Nagaland, constituted under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015. A Zero FIR was registered the next day after the Police took the victim’s statement and the case transferred to Women Police Station, Kohima.
The victim in her statement given to the CWC has claimed that she has been subjected to severe physical abuse from the time she entered the home of her employer 4 years ago. She has claimed that, besides her ear being pulled often, the accused would regularly hit her hand with any object, smeared her face with king chillies, throw hot water on her, spit on her face while chewing pan, and even make her do household chores with one of her legs tied with rope. The accused, Vivi has alleged, would also tear the clothes on her body in front of other members of the family. The victim was also not sent to school, as is usually the common practice in the case of minor domestic helpers in the State.
CWC members, talking to Nagaland Page in their office, informed that the case has been registered under the Juvenile Justice Act, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and Indian Penal Code.
The Committee informed that signs of physical torture were visible all over Vivi’s body, indicating the child was under constant physical abuse. The CWC also received a case study of the victim from Dimapur Childline on October 20 last, that added up to the statement given by her to the CWC.
According to CWC, Vivi escaped from her employer’s home, along with another minor, who works as a domestic helper in the same household, on October 2, and reached her relative’s residence in Dimapur the same day. Her cousin, being aware about child helpline, took her to a Sakhi One Stop Centre. The Sakhi Centre intimated Childline and CWC about the case.
The other minor, also a girl, who had escaped along with Vivi, had been taken back to Kohima and handed over to the family of the accused. Vivi informed CWC that her companion also faces regular abuses and asked the Committee to rescue her. CWC had informed the Police as well as their counterpart in Kohima, and the other child was also rescued and taken to a shelter on November 5. A case has been registered against the alleged accused, and she has been taken into judicial custody, the CWC informed Nagaland Page.
Child Abuse Rampant
In Dimapur alone, this year from April till October, the CWC has received 11 child abuse cases, one of which was a case of sexual abuse. From April 2019 till March 2020, the Committee addressed 7 child abuse cases, out of which 3 cases were sexual abuse. The situation was worse during the months that Nagaland witnessed Lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are the cases that have come to us; there are many many more that go unreported and undetected. The victims are mostly Nagas, and largely female, though male children also are abused. Most cases pertain to domestic helpers”, Chairman of Child Welfare Committee Dimapur, Taka informed.
“The excuse given by most of our people when accused of physically abusing their domestic help is that as they consider the minors as their own children and so have the right to discipline them. But the way they treat these children (domestic help) evident by the injury marks is no way anyone treats a child”, he stated.
It would be pertinent to mention that corporal punishment in the name of discipline in educational institutions is also considered an offence under the Right to Education Act. In any case, there is a distinct line between discipline and abuse even in the home, the latter of which is violative of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act as well as Article 21 of the Constitution of India. But such laws are normally not applied to “children who help in household chores” with most accused persons blatantly dismissing laws like the Juvenile Justice Act that protect child rights, with the rationale that the law is intruding on methods of disciplining and are in effect responsible for spoiling children. Many families do not even send these domestic help to school, even though they claim otherwise, Taka also informed.
Interestingly, cases of child abuse take place more often in affluent families, where the family members are educated and have high standing in society, Advocate and member of the CWC Dimapur, Limasenla Longkumer informed. “In most cases we receive, the accused are mostly the wives or the children, and husbands are silent witnesses. But it’s not that men don’t abuse – most cases of a sexual nature are committed by husbands or males living in the home, but despite knowing the truth the wives feign ignorance when confronted.”
In 2012, a 14-year old Naga girl became the first person to receive compensation under the Nagaland Victim Compensation Scheme, when she was rescued and rehabilitated after being raped by her biological father for many years. The mother, who was in the know, had fled. In 2016, a non-Naga girl in Dimapur was rescued by CWC on receiving information that she was raped by her own father.
Last year, an Assistant Professor of a Theological College, was arrested for child abuse in Dimapur. A couple of years ago, a case of severe physical abuse of a female domestic help by the daughter of a high ranking Government official shook the organizations working for child welfare.
Prosecutions in child abuse cases are low, with “compromise” being the main deterrent. Going by the accounts of child rights activists, in most cases, the victims’ families are coerced to settle the matter outside the purview of law. The victims hail from marginalized section of the society, and most of the time their families accept a compromise or compensation as they cannot endure the pressure exerted on them by the accused. Moreover in many cases local organizations also step into such cases as mediators and seek compromise. “The victim is often the last person who is considered or heard when such compromises are arrived at”, a law professional dealing with child rights said.
Despite the Naga society being largely in denial when it comes to issues of child rights and protection, more child abuse cases are being reported these days due to awareness created by various NGOs and the Government, the CWC Chairman assessed. He also felt that there has been growing awareness in Dimapur Police too regarding child abuse and child rights and they are playing a more proactive role.
Vivi, whose biological mother remembers her as a happy and talkative child, is meanwhile showing signs of recovery from the physical and mental trauma. “She was traumatized and barely spoke when we met her the first time in October. Now she has improved a lot with regular counseling and care in a shelter home,” a CWC member informed. Her father had passed away before she was born and her paternal aunt had taken her to Kohima when she was around 8-years-old. Few years later she was handed over to the family of the accused. Vivi’s mother had been living with the belief that her daughter was being taken care of well as she was with a “good family”.
Meanwhile, with investigation underway, more light would be thrown on the nature of case after the statement of the other minor girl, who ran away along with Vivi, is recorded. The minor, reportedly a non-Naga, was handed over to the family of the accused a few days after the two escaped. Her “rescue” was conducted almost 3 weeks later. The statement of the accused is also awaited.
Meanwhile, please contact Childline 1098 to report child abuse.