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Even After Three Years, Parents Of 13-year-old Sexually Abused Girl Struggle For Justice

Chennai: 

Panbu and his wife Vani (names changed) both from a scheduled caste (Dalits) often walk to the beach nearby in Tamil Nadu's Chengalpattu district to offload worries about their ongoing long fight for justice for their minor daughter who was sexually abused by a family friend three years ago. It was an auto driver in the neighborhood and his friend who allegedly abused their daughter sexually. The family trusted the neighbour and their daughter, who was in class seven then, used to go to his house to play till her parents returned from work. The perpetrators had also intimidated her to not report their sexual abuse to her parents.

Also Read: 7-Year-Old Afsana's Ordeal At The Hands Of Her Father

Though the men were put behind bars under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), they managed to come out on bail after a few crucial eyewitnesses turned hostile. Gaining strength from the ceaseless waves, the shattered father, Panbu appeals to such witnesses,

I appeal to witnesses in several abuse cases, please don't turn hostile even if they pay money. If you have a child you should know the pain. What would you do if the same happens to your child?

The sexual abuse has had its economic repercussions. Though both spouses worked to take care of their three children, Vani decided to quit her housekeeping job so she could stay at home to look after their children. Vani used to earn Rs. 6,000 but the decision meant the family would lose have to manage with Panbu's earnings of Rs. 15,000 as a hotel worker. Sharing her worry, Vani says,

I don't get sleep at night as I keep thinking about what will happen. He only earns now. That is inadequate. It is so difficult. We have to educate all three children. Since we are in a rented house we have to pay rent.

Also Read: Bachpan Bachao Andolan Helped 5-year-old Gudiya, A Child Survivor, To Get Justice After 7 Long Years

To add to the family's misery, local people got to know about the sexual abuse of their child and the family had to deal with stigma. Ultimately as it worsened they had to shift to another area to a rented home leaving their own house.

Intervention by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) has come as a great help to the family in distress. Volunteers from this NGO paved the way for an initial compensation of around Rs. 5.5 lakh from the district administration and state government. Police have also invoked the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 against the accused men. Besides legal help, the foundation also says it gives crucial counseling to the family. Natharsha, project coordinator, BBA added,

We supported them in getting victim compensation and with the court and social justice department. He (Panbu) would tell me that witnesses turned hostile and started supporting the accused. I used to tell don't lose confidence. We are here to help you to get justice. Even if not in this court we would make sure the accused is punished. We would appeal in a higher court.

Even as more survivors of child sexual abuse come forward to report the road to justice many say is still long, turbulent and often delayed, only helping perpetrators. Natharsha says there's also an urgent need for the government and stakeholders to take a hard look at this.

Also Read: How Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundations Bal Mitra Gram Is Empowering Children

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