Hugging A Child Without Consent Is Not PlayfulnessWhat started out as a playful interaction on a dance reality show on television has turned into a raging debate on consent, child rights and social manners. The dramatis personae involved were Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandes and a child participant aged around 11/12 years. Salman asked the boy to give a hug to Jacqueline but he refused. Then, Salman accompanied Jacqueline on the stage and made the boy hug her, much to his discomfort. Jacqueline also rubbed her tummy against his bum later on. Social media did not take kindly to the act with commentators asking questions about consent and child rights.
By Sunil Garodia
Is it right to force/persuade a child to hug someone against her/his wishes? Is consent limited to adults? Does a child have rights over her/his body which adults should respect? Were Salman and Jacqueline ignoring socially acceptable behavior in their effort to spice up things on the show and got carried away? While the last question can be answered in the positive, there are no easy answers to the first three. Obviously a child is as much entitled to guard her/his privacy as an adult and no one, including parents, should force/persuade a child to do something out of the ordinary which she/he is unwilling to do. Legally speaking, Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child (UNCRC), to which India is a signatory, recognizes the right to thought and conscience for every child. Article 16 of the UNCRC gives the child right to privacy. Both these rights were violated in the above case.
We do not think twice before cuddling, hugging or otherwise touching a childs body. Most of the time, this is done with affection and without any bad intention. But if the child is above, say, 8 years of age (this is a random figure, others may put it even lower), the display of affection must be made with extreme care and must never be repeated if the child objects the first time. It does not matter how friendly or closely related one is with the child. Her/his consent is necessary to touch her/him. Repeated touching without her/his consent can border on criminal offence under POCSO Act.
Leaving aside the legal angle, if a child is forced/persuaded or otherwise made to do something which he does not like, like hugging Jacqueline for instance, it might scar her/his mind and makes her/him trust adults even lesser. A childs relationship with adults is based on a large part on trust. Since a child is not able to take certain decisions on her/his own, she/he trusts adults to make these decisions on her/his behalf and she/he follows them blindly due to that trust. If the child is distressed by following any of these decisions taken by adults, she/he will stop trusting those adults. It might even leave a permanent scar if the act is very hateful to her/him. Hence, adults need to be more careful when interacting with children above a certain age. What was playfulness for Salman and Jacqueline could have been devastating for the child.
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