Whatever happened to ‘zero tolerance’ for child abuse by ‘godmen’ and priests?

All religions need to unite to ensure that sexual predators don't use their position as religious leaders to sexually assault children


The Ministry of Women and Child Development displays on its public page, the ‘Model Guidelines under Section 39 of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012′. The Act, reffered to as POCSO, is a comprehensive law to provide for the “protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, while safeguarding the interests of the child at every stage.”

It covers any form of sexual abuse committed by “a person in a position of trust or authority vis-à-vis the child, like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor.” A religious teacher, maulvi, priest, or guru is also seen as a teacher, and to the child they have the same level of authority and command similar levels of respect, and often generate the same levels of fear of punishment.

The act also makes it mandatory to report sexual offences committed against children. It is the “legal duty upon a person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused to report the offence; if he fails to do so, he may be punished with six months imprisonment and/ or a fine,” it states. Something that religious heads and establishments should always be aware of, and immediately report when one of their own priests, mauvis, babas, gurus etc are suspected of being child abusers.

Some however, groom children in other ways, some others brainwash and scare children to steal from their homes. All of this can lead to other crimes, including sexual assault.

Recently an incident of threatening children and forcing them to get gold from their homes by a madarsa teacher has been reported from Kerala. According to a report in the portal Dailyhunt, the accused was arrested “suspecting that he abused a child.” The man was allegedly “luring” the children under his tutelage with lines such as “let Prophet Muhammad be shown in a dream”. 

The Madrasa teacher identified as Abdul Kareem (50), from Ulikkal, Kannur was arrested on suspicion of child abuse, as well as allegations of stealing money and gold from them. He convinced the children to “donate money and gold if they wanted to go to heaven”. He also allegedly threatened the children by saying that “their parents would be beheaded if they disclosed that the gold had been taken from the house.” The man’s plan was exposed after a complaint was filed about the loss of gold from a child’s house said the news report. 

Kareem reportedly told the child’s family that a “jinn” or spirit had possessed her body.  He added that the missing gold would be returned if the evil spirit was cleared. As news about this incident spread in the area, more information came out that gold had been lost from many houses of other children going to the madrassa. As more people came to the scene with complaints. The role of the madrassa teacher became clear in the ensuing police investigation. According to the police Kareem was teaching in the madrassa allegedly without adequate qualifications.

In another case reported from Kerala, a former madarsa teacher was booked for sexualy molesting his minor daughter. Six other men were also booked for sexually abusing this minor girl. The girl’s father, a former madrassa teacher, was booked for abusing four boys in 2017 reported Express News Service.

The 50-year-old man was arrested on Monday for sexually abusing his 16-year-old daughter repeatedly over the past two years. Local police also booked six youths in their early twenties for sexually abusing the girl and arrested three of them – Riyas, 19, Ijaz, 20, and Mohammed Ali, 20 reported ENS. All seven men have been booked under the POCSO Act. According to the report that quotes P R Manoj, the investigating officer, the girl was impregnated and underwent an illegal abortion two months ago. “The doctor who performed the abortion is also under investigation as he failed to report the crime,” the report quotes a senior police officer adding that the crime came to light after the girl’s maternal uncle (mother’s brother) found something amiss with her behaviour. It is reported that the girl’s relatives stood by her and encouraged her to approach the police against her father and other abusers. The police will reportedly declare the house “unsafe for children”, and the survivor will be provided with counselling and support, stated the report.

According to the Investigating officer, the girl’s father was a repeat sexual offender and was accused of sexually assaulting four minor boys under the Bekal police station limits in 2017. Though four cases were registered against him under the POCSO Act, he received bail as the legal proceedings dragged on in court stated ENS news report. He is a native of Sulliya in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and has another wife and five children there. He came to Kasaragod to teach in the madrasa. After the alleged sexual assault in Bekal, he was sacked, said an officer.

The case is one of many similar cases reported from the state. In January this year, three men held for sexual assault of a minor. According to an Express News Service report, the accused were identified as Palerikkundil Ali alias Eethapazham Ali, 36, and Mattathuveetil Kunju Muhammed alias Manuppa,40, both from Mattummal and Annath Muhamamdali alias Bhava from Athavanad. The culprits were presented before the court and remanded to judicial custody. They were arrested in connection with the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) case, in which 16 persons allegedly sexually abused a 16-year-old boy in the district. A total of 10 people have been arrested till January. According to the ENS report, Malappuram had registered the highest number of POCSO cases last year.

The rott runs deep across religions when it comes to sexual abuse of minors, and the rights of the survivor. According to an opinion written by well known legal expert and activist Flavia Agnes in The Wire, the application filed by Robin Vadakkumchery, a former Catholic priest belonging to the Syro Malabar tradition before the Kerala high court seeking two months’ parole to marry the rape survivor, has once again put the spotlight on “the rampant sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and girls by the clergy, in Kerala and elsewhere.” 

Agnes noted that the Kerala high court is where the priest’s appeal against his conviction is pending. “The former priest, Robin Vadakkumchery, is now 52. He was convicted by the district and sessions court at Telassery on February 16, 2019, for raping and impregnating a 16-year-old who was studying in Class XI in the parish school, of which he was the manager. He was also the priest of the St. Sebastian’s parish in Kottiyoor, a position of high status and immense power and authority.”

According to Ages, “the influence which he could exert was such that though three members of the District Child Welfare Committee (a priest and two religious sisters) were aware of the crime, they did not report it to the police as they were bound to under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2012. On the contrary, they ‘managed the pregnancy and delivery’ in a missionary hospital and on the very next day, shifted the infant to St. Agnelo’s Foundling Home, without preparing the necessary documents and without obtaining the required permissions, so that no paper trail is left behind. The priest was arrested on February 28, 2017, just weeks after the teenager gave birth to the child, amid allegations of church officials attempting to cover up this scandal.”

SabrangIndia had an in depth report on Robin Vadakkumchery’s shocking case of impunity, when he moved court asking for a two-month parole to marry the woman he was convicted of raping. At the time of the abuse, the survivor was 16-years-old and a student of 11th standard. The crime took place in May 2016. The accused in the case was arrested in 2018 as he tried to flee to Canada. He was convicted by a Thalassery POCSO court and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and also fined Rs 2 lakh. But there was more to the case than sexual exploitation of a minor girl. The survivor delivered a baby in February 2017, who was sent to an orphanage and six people allegedly assisted Vadakkumchery in the case; Thangamma Nelliyani, Wayanad Child Welfare Committee (CWC) Chairman Fr Thomas Joseph Therakam, CWC committee member Sister Betty Jose and Superintendent of an orphanage in Wayanad Sister Ophelia, along with Sister Liss Mariya and Sister Anita. However, the court acquitted them all.

Several Christian women’s groups are extremely agitated over these developments, wrote Flavia Agnes, calling it “an ingenious ploy and a carefully crafted legal strategy devised by astute lawyers to get the priest out of the 20-year jail term which he is currently serving.”

A plea of willingness to marry the survivor made by the accused is nothing new, she stated, noting that “it is a worn-out strategy often used as an escape route in rape trials and appeals. The high premium placed on marriage in our society renders even judges to view this offer sympathetically.”

Meanwhile, two more priests have been defrocked in Kerala following allegations of sexual abuse, in this case the victim was an adult. However it is noteworthy because in this case the Church sacked the two accused and made a public statement. Joseph Poothotatil and Mathew Mullapally were priests at the Tellicherry Archdiocese at Kannur district in Kerala before they were defrocked in the wake of sexual allegations, reported Deccan Herald in June. The archdiocese also tendered an apology to the believers for the wrong doings from the part of the priests, according to the news report. This is perhaps one of the most public punishments issued by a Church against sexual abusers from within the priest community.

The latest case of a child abuser is that of a Pastor from Ahmedabad who has been booked for luring, and sharing indecent photos of a 16 year old girl after luring her to send them to him. The 38-year-old  Pastor identified as Gulab Chandra Masih was booked last week, under provisions of the POCSO Act, for stalking and intimidating the child. The 16-year-old Class 11 student who lives with her parents, was allegedly pressured by the man to undress herself during video calls he would make. The complaint also states that he threatened her, and would also allegedly urge her to convert to Christianity. He was arrested after he shared those sensitive photo’s with the girl’s relative.

The most well known case of sexual abuse of a minor by a religious ‘guru’ is that of Asaram, who in 2018 was found guilty of raping a minor girl, and was sentenced to life in prison. The girl who is originally from Shahjahanpur, was raped at an ashram near Jodhpur in 2013. Asaram was charged under sections of the POCSO Act and the Juvenile Justice Act. Such assaults however seem to have continued. Many as expected, remain unreported.



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