On 12 August 2018, the President of India gave his assent to a law that provides for the death penalty for the rape of girls under 12. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2018 is the latest in a series of steps taken by the government to counter sexual violence with harsher punishments. This approach has its merits but misses a crucial point, believes Megha Bhatia, the founder of Our Voix, a youth-led organisation that focuses on the prevention of child sexual abuse. “In our country, we are working on stringent punishments after abuse but no work is being done on primary prevention — intervening before the crime takes place,” says Bhatia, who started the organisation in January 2018.
Bhatia has conducted awareness workshops on child sexual abuse for more than 6000 children across Delhi, and has previously worked with organisations such as Save The Children and Amnesty International in London, where she also did her LLM (specialising in human rights) from University College.
I met her as a journalist for NewsTracker at a cafe in Delhi for a conversation on the importance of giving children — girls as well as boys — the tools to deal with sexual abuse, the challenges of sensitising parents and teachers, the pros and cons of the death penalty for child rape, and how the media should deal with minor victims of sexual assault.
How did Our Voix come into being?
While interning with the Sofia Education and Welfare Society, an NGO, I dealt with child abuse cases frequently. I’d take them to the police station and for medical examinations, and the experience made me realise the magnitude of the problem. I also familiarised myself with the child abuse laws of India — in particular the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012 — and understood that violations extend beyond touch to include behaviours such as making children watch pornography, and other forms of harassment and exploitation.
When I went to London and saw the kind of work that was being done in this field, I realised that I need to start my own organisation that works on the primary prevention of child sexual abuse in India.
When children are abused, they cannot raise their voice (“voix” is French for “voice). They don’t even know what is happening. The harm is so deep that its impact never dulls. Adults understand what has happened to them and that they need to report it. It’s our responsibility to provide protection to children.
Can you tell us more about your organisation and what it does?
There are people from different backgrounds at Our Voix: psychologists, professors, a law consultant and creative consultant.
We do workshops for children — primarily in the 6–12 age group — as well as for teachers and parents. We are also training youth to conduct workshops for children, teachers and parents.
We devised the structure of the workshops after doing a lot of academic research as well as talking to parents, professors and teachers to understand their needs. Our workshops are being evaluated and updated regularly.
Children are taught through games and cartoons in our workshops. We don’t do danger talks because we don’t want to create fearful children. We have to create fearless children. Our workshops are child-friendly: we use a lot of pictures and conduct activities like nukkad nataks (street plays), flash mobs and discussions.
These are one-time workshops but we do go for a follow up a month later. At first, children are often hesitant to talk about the issue, but after an hour of the workshop you can see a change in them — even those who didn’t know the names of private parts at first come forward to answer questions.
Read the full interview here.