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Lapses by child welfare body blamed for sexual abuse of 13-yr-old girl by foster father in Assam

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The 13-year-old was placed with the foster family in May 2018, but is now in a shelter.

New Delhi: India’s apex agency for adoptions has faulted the child welfare committee (CWC) of Assam’s Cachar district for the continued sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl, allegedly at the hands of her foster father, a government employee.

CWCs are autonomous district-wise bodies mandated with overseeing the welfare of children in their jurisdiction.

The teenager was allegedly sexually abused by her foster father over several months last year. When she sought to inform her foster mother about the abuse, she is said to have dismissed the girl’s complaints as lies.

In a letter dated 24 December to the deputy commissioner of Cachar district, Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) CEO Deepak Kumar has accused the local CWC of “several lapses” and demanded action against it.

Even though the CWC was intimated about the sexual abuse, Kumar wrote, it failed to take any action against the foster father, which he termed a violation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The CWC instead, he said, sent the victim back into his care.

‘Bring the accused to justice’

Kumar also alleged the connivance of police with the parents, saying they had sought to project the girl as an adult to help the latter dodge stringent provisions of the POCSO Act.

“After the FIR has been filed [sic], even the police seem to have connived with the abusive family by getting the child’s age ascertained as over 18 years, so that the abuser could get bail as the case hasn’t been registered under POCSO,” he said.

Kumar, in the letter, asked the deputy commissioner to explain why the girl, if she was indeed an adult, was placed in foster care. He also asked who had declared the family fit to adopt children, and the names of the CWC members who sent the child back to the family.

“… It is evident that the abused child hasn’t got justice, and no action has been taken against the perpetrator,” he added.

“Even the CWC and DCPU (District Child Protection Unit, an allied agency) have been guilty in this whole case and action against not only the foster family but the persons responsible (especially in the CWC) needs to be taken,” Kumar said.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has taken cognisance of the case too, asking Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in a letter last month to take immediate action.

“I request you to immediately ensure that necessary action against the persons responsible for sexual abuse of the child and ensure they are brought to justice,” she said in a letter dated 26 December.

Also read: I was sexually abused as a child. I don’t want a death penalty, I prefer healing for him

The child’s ordeal

The case dates back to May 2018, when the 13-year old girl was placed with a foster family based in Silchar, the headquarters of Cachar district.

Soon after, it is alleged, a horrific saga of unabated sexual abuse by her foster father ensued.

For three months, her father allegedly abused her sexually, while her foster mother looked the other way. The exploitation allegedly began as soon as the mother was out of sight – sleeping in another room or out of the house.

At night, the child was allegedly made to massage her father’s feet. She has claimed that he would then allegedly lock the door, begin to disrobe her, and touch her inappropriately.

This continued for months until the foster parents approached the CWC to return the child.

The CWC is, however, said to have been aware of the troubles since long before. Days after her adoption, the parents had raised concern about the child’s behaviour and health with the CWC. Once, the child was even brought to the CWC, but sent back after some “counselling”.

Days later, when she told the CWC that her father made her uncomfortable by “hugging” her all the time, the committee is said to have let him off with a rap after he claimed that it was just a fatherly gesture.

It was finally in August that the foster mother again brought her back to the CWC and said they did not want to keep her anymore. The child said she did not want to go back either, claiming that her foster father had tried “to do bad things” with her.

‘Abused regularly’

The child was then sent to a temporary childcare shelter called the Nivedita Nari Sanstha (NNS).

According to a statement by the shelter, the child told them that “her foster father always tried to touch her private parts, though she did not want him to, but he used to do it by force”.

“One day when she was sleeping, XYZ (father’s identity is being withheld) came near her and tried to take off her clothes and intended to do physical behaviour with her (sic),” the shelter said.

“She cried loudly and told her mother. But her mother scolded her and said that she was telling lies,” it added.

“Slowly and gradually, he tried to attempt and finally did sexual behaviour with her. Since last 3-4 months, he was sexually abusing her on a regular basis,” it said.

Based on these statements, the child was put through a medical examination, and the results confirmed that she was sexually abused several times. The NNS then got an FIR filed against the foster father.

Also read: India’s justice system needs complete overhaul, says Justice Gogoi on child sexual abuse cases

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