Sexual exploitation of children is India’s worst kept secret. According to a study on child abuse, conducted by the Ministry of Woman and Child Development, 53.22 per cent of the children surveyed reported having faced sexual abuse. Almost half of them reported that abusers were known to them. It sampled 12,447 children, 2,324 young adults and 2,449 stakeholders across 13 states.
With regard to the gender break up of children facing one or more severe forms of sexual abuse, four of the 13 states reported higher percentage of sexual abuse among girls in comparison to boys. Of the four, in Maharashtra 11.27 per cent girls reported sexual abuse as compared to 8.33 per cent boys.
Many cases go unreported as the issue of disbelief, denial and cover-up to preserve the family reputation is often put before the individual child and its abuse.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in every 10 Indian children is sexually abused. A 2005 report released by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences where over 200 college going girls cutting across socio-economic strata in the city were surveyed, a shocking 77 per cent of them reported some form of sexual abuse (contact to non contact) before the age of 16 years.
“Further of the 77 per cent, 40 per cent were abused by people known to them. In one such case, the abuser was a religious leader. Twenty per cent was abused by close relatives like father, brother, uncle, grandfather, granduncle,” said Dr Shubhada Mitra, Tata Institute of Social Science chairperson and associate professor, Center for Health and Mental Health.
“Child sexual abuse or incest is not rape. It starts with a process of grooming where child gains trust of the abuser. The abuser will create a friendly atmosphere for the child,” said Nishit Kumar, coordinator, Childline, adding, “This can happen over two to three weeks or even for months. In most cases, the abuser is someone from the family or if someone outside the family then he will deliberately take on jobs that bring them closer to the child like swimming instructor, teacher, or governor. Grooming then escalates to unsafe touching; either offender starts exposing himself or the child’s private parts and episode of rape comes much later.”
“Children have no language to express sexual abuse as we do not have a discourse about sex and sexual abuse; here sex education plays a major role. It helps not only in understanding once body but also gives the child a language to speak out against such a cruel abuse. Sex education will help create an atmosphere conducive for children to talk about it. It will also help them understand the boundary and know when one transgresses it,” said Dr Mitra.
However, Dr Mitra says it is not enough to speak out as there is no legislation or policy to protect them. “If one can have a workplace policy for sexual harassment why can’t there be a policy for child sex abuse.” “In the Bhayander case, even though the children are at protect home now, father was released on bail and after much intervention only he was re-arrested,” said Kumar.
In India, there is no single law that specifically deals with child abuse, and there is no clear delineation of sexual abuse in the Indian Penal Code. Indian laws consider only “assault to outrage the modesty of a woman,” rape by penile penetration, and “unnatural sexual intercourse” like sodomy as punishable sexual crimes.
In April, Childline will hold a campaign against child sexual abuse in schools across the city. The campaign will focus on awareness of child sexual abuse that will involve members of parent teacher association as volunteers. Children will be taught to distinguish between safe and unsafe touch.
Jinal Shah, Express India, Mar 22, 2009,