Monday, April 15, 2024

Child protection system

A dubious and extremely flawed system entrenched in Naga society is often cited by activists as one of the chief obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators involved in child abuse cases in the State. This unsettling practice is condensed into one simple word: compromise. In almost all cases of child abuse in Nagaland, the victims and the families are persuaded, in one way or the other, to settle the matter outside the purview of the Court. Especially in the case of the perpetrator being a Naga man or woman, numerous organisations, unions and hohos are deployed at the forefront to work out a compromise. As is the case everywhere else, the victims and the families are normally from the weaker/lower rung of the social structure (and yes, contrary to many claims, Nagas do have a social power structure) and as such are unable to withstand the pressure, both tacit and blatant. Also, this application of pressure is not limited to the victim and the family. In the grand Naga spirit of generosity, this exertion is also spread among activists and agencies working for child rights and protection in the State. This is old news because the activists and the child rights organisations have openly talked about it in various newspaper interviews, including those featured in Nagaland Page. And the fact that those working for compromise ultimately prevail each time speaks for the kind of society we have allowed ours to become: A society that cannot protect and administer justice to its own children. In simple and cold deduction, a case (even as heinous as child abuse) is basically about the victim and the perpetrator. Then what sort of reasoning and conscience persuade anyone or any organisation to intercede on behalf of a child abuser? It is striking how, in the words of a Dimapur-based child activist, all the calls she has received while working on a case have been on behalf of the perpetrator. “I have received so many calls but not a single one asking how the victim is doing. They plead for the accused person’s case. Eighty percent of the accused persons are from well-off families, they have all the connections. So the maximum calls we get are for the accused persons. In the last 10-11 years, only one family has inquired about the victim and offered to help her”, she had said. There have been instances of council and union members swarming her office to speak on behalf of the perpetrators ~ she described the incidents as physically intimidating. While not undermining the gravity of other cases, the scenario is even worse in instances of sexual abuse. Activists say that most of the time ~ if the perpetrator is a family member or a relative ~ the cases are immediately shut down. And this becomes even more worrisome when given proper context. Because child rights activists in Nagaland say that baring the rare exception, in all the cases of child sex abuse, the perpetrators are familiar faces: biological fathers, stepfathers, uncles, employers, and school teachers, etc. For much of history, cruelty to children was viewed as a private rather than a societal concern. But that’s exactly the point ~ the perception belongs to history now. Even though the general mode is still that of denial, it can perhaps be said that more cases of child abuse are being reported today in Nagaland. Thanks to awareness created by the activists, organisations and even Government agencies. Various provisions of law have been introduced to protect the child from all forms of abuse. But the problem in Nagaland is not with the laws and its effectiveness or otherwise. Far from it. We are not even allowing the laws to be enforced in the first place because we have formulated a unique obstruction. And for as long as we allow this barrier to exist, we cannot claim to have an effective child protection system guided by law in the State.