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Alleged sexual harassment of child with autism in Kerala highlights need for tougher rules

The parents of a 10-year-old boy with autism studying at a government school in Thiruvananthapuram have alleged that he was sexually harassed by a school employee. The parents are unhappy with the action taken by the police and have also alleged that school authorities are protecting the accused.

10-year-old Aarav*'s (name changed) repeated refusal to go to school baffled his parents. Aarav, who has autism, was was studying at a school for children with disabilities in Thiruvananthapuram. It was only after his worried mother discussed this with his therapist that the truth came to be known.

Aarav's parents found out that he had been sexually assaulted by his school teacher. That the abuse took place inside a prominent government school in the city has shocked many. Aarav's family had moved from Kannur to the city to ensure he had access to the best schooling. His mother Renjini PK is determined to get justice for her son but the apathy of school authorities is proving to be a major barrier.

Since the past few months, I started noticing changes in my son's behaviour. I discussed this with the therapist who spoke to him and found out that he was being sexually abused. When I complained to the school authorities, they came home and threatened me. We are now worried about whether we will get justice. - Renjini PK, Aarav's mother.

Renjini has filed a police complaint with the highest police official of the state, the Director General of Police, and appeared before the magistrate's court as well. Officials noted down what Aarav had to say, and also spoke to his therapist.

"The police asked us to get a certificate from the medical board stating that he was sexually harassed, and we got that as well", says Renjini."They said they can take the case further only after that. Initially, we were unhappy with the way police were handling the case. Now we just want the police department to arrest the accused who is now absconding. I would go to any extent in order to get justice", says Renjini.

Renjini says the school management is supporting the accused and in fact has vouched for his character. "The school told us the accused is a gentleman who wouldn't do such things when my son has clearly stated who the abuser is", says Renjini.

The insensitivity of lawmakers is making things tougher for Renjini. The Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act protects children from such offences but most parents are unaware.

Among those who is supporting Renjini's fight for justice is Seema Lal, Co-founder of the Kochi parent support group TogetherWeCan (TWC).

"We are in touch with the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Kerala State human Rights Commission. Both have assured speedy action. Since our group is based in Kochi, we are unfortunately unable to accompany Renjini and she needs greater support from parents in the school where this has allegedly occurred". TWC lawyers are helping the family file the petition.

Renjini says she will not back down and is gearing up to fight against the system which seems indifferent to the plight of a child who has suffered great mental trauma.

ALSO READ: Early exposure to speech shapes language skills of kids with autism



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