Eight child sexual abuse cases are on a shocking rise in India despite a majority going undetected and unreported. Children are being trafficked, harassed and treated like objects. Incest is common too. Mehul Malpani & Trishna Das speak with child activists to find out how these survivours are traumatised for life, thanks to the societal stigma attached to their plight
He started coming almost every day in the afternoons, when my sisters would be at school and parents at work. His visits started giving me nightmares,” says Anjali (15) (name changed), a village girl from southern Maharashtra whose family moved to Mumbai seeking a better life.
Anjali is not the lone case in India where every 155th minute, a child below 16 years of age is sexually abused or raped. In a country where there is so much abuse of children, it is sad that India’s first ever study on child abuse was conducted as late as 1998 by Recovery and Healing from Incest (RAHI), an NGO helping women recover from the trauma of sexual abuse.
The revelations were shocking with most of the abuse came from the family members, relatives, neighbours and even teachers of the children.
Nabonita Banerjee, a counselor at RAHI, tells you that the society still does not accept the fact that such things exist behind closed doors of our homes or schools. There are indicators which a child reflects if something, which she hesitates to talk about, is happening to her.
“There are indicators which will let you know when and if a child is being sexually abused. We have categorised such survivors in three categories. First is the medical indicator which is the obvious thing, like regular injury marks, sores in private parts or bite marks. Second, are sexual indicators which mean that the child has more knowledge of sexuality than her age would usually permit. Third are the other behavioural indicators which let you know all is not well,” Banerjee tells you.
Sexual and medical signs are more obvious than the behavioural ones, she says. It is the parents’ duty to spot and analyse their child’s odd behaviour and make her feel comfortable so that she can to talk about the issue which is bothering her. Parents need to have an open and friendly relationship with their children so that they feel no fear or shame in talking to them about such issues.
“At times, we get to see a sudden change in a child, like poor performance in school, aggression, crying over small things, irritation or becoming unsocial. These are the things which seek quick attention from adults. Surprisingly, sometimes a child creates the desire of over achieving so that she can divert her mind from her nightmares,” says Banerjee.
Often the most obvious indicators are shoved under the carpet by parents who too are in denial of something so serious besetting their child. However, it presses for an instant probe by parents if they see this behaviour in their ward. There is also the need to tell them about good touch and a bad one.
It was not surprising that Anjali , the third among four daughters, was unaware of these touches. She recalls her time nine years ago when she moved to Mumbai with her family which was struggling financially.
“The man in our neighboring house whom I called uncle would treat me and my sisters like his daughters. He would buy toys and frocks for us and pamper us. I remember when I was still a kid, he would hug and kiss me. Initially, I did not feel anything as his touch was very paternal. But over the next few years, it became inappropriate and made me feel utterly uncomfortable,” Anjali recounts. She has been attending Life Skills Empowerment (LSE) sessions conducted by Mumbai Smiles, a Mumbai-based NGO working for the empowerment of poor women and children.
After being repeatedly abused and having nowhere to go to escape it, Anjali started turning silent. Her cheerful behaviour changed. She wouldn’t talk to anyone properly as she would keep thinking about what his uncle was doing to her. She would feel disgusted by his touch and words. The uncle would tell her how, since she was becoming a young woman, he had to massage her girly parts. She would do her best to resist but it was all in vein.
“I knew that if I spoke about what was happening to me, nobody would believe that a father-figure could do this to me. I was all broken inside and went into depression,” says Anjali, recalling her nightmarish days.
“All of us, inherently, know the good -bad touch. We know what kind of touch we like and what kind makes us uncomfortable. The problem is that a child does not understand that this ‘bad touch’ is an abuse,” Anjali tells you, sharing her experience with other such victims.
“By talking to children about ‘good touch-bad touch’, we give them a language. The language which helps them understand the situation and feel comfortable to talk about it,” she says.
Sadly, in most cases, it is not the abuse that affects the mental state of a survivor but the response of the society which criminalises the person of abuse.
One is told that in order to overcome the trauma, the child needs love and support from people around her, like family, relatives and neighbours. But these people treat her like an object who needs to be thrown out because she has become dirty. This scars the likes of Anjali forever.
When Anjali tried to tell her mother about the abuse, her mother’s reaction was predictable – she refused to believe her which left Anjali helpless. But, she was a fighter. She and her LSE mentor hatched a plan wherein the mother would walk in when the uncle was abusing her next. The plan worked and the mother was stunned to see her daughter being abused. She was furious and threw the man out that day. Eventually, a police complaint was filed.
However, for the conservative family, fearing social stigma, it was a difficult decision to go to the police. The uppermost question in their minds was ‘who will marry a girl who has been sexually abused’?
Same is the case with most others who get abused. Organisations working with such survivors assert that many of those rescued from such predicaments don’t want to go home as they feel guilty and dirty about the crime perpetrated on them, much like rape victims who are often made to feel by our system that the atrocity on them was somehow their fault.
“I do not want to go home, I do not want to face my father and family. I am a ‘dirty girl,” was what a 13-year-old girl kidnapped from a village in Assam and sold in Delhi for sexual abuse six years ago, says.
Kailash Satyarthi, India’s second Nobel Peace Laureate after Mother Teresa, tells you that every time he sees a girl in such a situation, he questions himself and questions each one of us. “Who’s daughters are they — who are these girls who are being sold and bought like animals. When my team and I, alongwith the local police, went to rescue this girl on the request of her father, who had been looking for his little daughter for years, we found her at a house in Punjabi Bagh area in the Capital.
“When we entered the house after much resistance, a man came to us and said the girl was inside but did not want to go home as she was very happy there. The girl was leaning behind a wall and not willing to come out. The local police was almost convinced that we were the ones forcing her but within minutes she started crying that said that she would not go home since she had become dirty. We later found out that she had been raped several times and was three months pregnant. I could not collect enough courage to tell this to her father,” Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), recalls.
Dipesh Tank, project director with Rescue Foundation which has been rescuing children from brothels and hazardous industries, tells you that while Rajasthan tops in child trafficking in the country, West Bengal leads in overall human trafficking figures. Some other major hotspots, according to him, are Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Not only India but countries like Nepal and Bangladesh are also involved in the trans-national sex racket.
“In a male dominant country like ours, the demand for minor girls is very high so that the sexual frustration of men can be eased. Shockingly, hormonal injections are given to young girls so that they look older than their real ages,” Tank, who has risked his life several times fighting for the cause, tells you.
These children are lured in the name of good jobs and brought here or sometimes sold to traffickers by their parents or relatives for paltry sums. Once they are here, they are sold to brothels or made to work as bounded labour. In their school-going age, these children have to work tirelessly, and, on top of that, they are tortured and treated like objects. “This racket is like an intricate and impenetrable web in the country and to spoof the administration, they work in the shade of placement agencies and even NGOs,” says Satyarthi.
Satyarthi, who founded BBA in 1980, recalls his first intervention in the case of child trafficking when he was working on his magazine Sangharsh Jaari Rahega.
“One night, a desperate father, Vasal Khan, knocked at my door. Before I could ask him what was wrong, he fell on his knees and begged me to save his daughter. He told me that 17 years ago, he was taken as a labourer to a village near Sarhind in Punjab from his native village in Aligarh. He had been working there making bricks without a salary. To make matters worse, his employer wanted Khan to sell his daughter along with other children to some men from GB Road in Delhi.”
Satyarthi, who’s been active in more than 140 countries for children rights, tells you that it is not very difficult to provide proper nourishment and education to all the underprivileged children in the world.
“It needs $22 billion to educate all these children. It may look a huge amount but you would be surprised to know that this is just four and a half days’ global military expenditure. This dream can be made true if the world decides to stop military activities and stay in peace only for five days. Is it that difficult”, he asks?
Tank tells you that his NGO also rehabilitates children and helps them have a bright future. “After rescuing them, we do a home verification so that they can be sent back to their families. If the home verification is not satisfactory, we send them to our rehabilitation centres where they get basic education, learn stitching and other vocational courses and if they aim to get higher education, we help them in that too,” he explains.
Unfortunately, despite having a number of laws for the protection of child rights, the exploitation and crimes against them are on the rise.
Around 5 lakh children between the age of 5 to 15 are forced into sex trade every year. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, as many 20,000 children were trafficked in India in 2016, which is 25 per cent higher than the number in 2015.
In 2012, Parliament passed The Protection of Child from Sexual Offences Act. The Act aims at addressing the issue of severe child sexual abuse by providing a variety of sections under which an abused can be punished. It also provides for reforms in the judicial system, making the tiring process of trial easier for children.
Satyarthi calls it a ‘good law in its own’ but questions the enforcement due to highly expensive judicial and executive proceedings. He also demands safety for survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers.
The Government has also launched the Ujjawala Scheme to battle human trafficking and rehabilitate survivors. The scheme provides a sum of Rs 500 a month which, in any given condition, is not sufficient.
“Children are being exploited in many ways be it child marriage, child labour or physical and mental abuse. Their childhood is being taken away and it negatively impacts their behaviour and growth. It is the collective moral responsibility of all citizens to come forward for the underprivileged children’s cause,” Satyarthi says.
- According to a Government commissioned survey, 53% children in India are subjected to child abuse.
- In more than 50% cases, the perpetrators are family members, close relatives, neighbors or teachers.
- 13 million children in the world are victims of human trafficking.
- 7000 Nepali girls were sold in India last year
- A child below 10 every 13th hour and one in every 10 children are sexually abused at any point of time.
- More than 10,000 children were raped in India in 2015. (NCRB)
- Close to 15,000 sexual offences against children were registered under POSCO act in 2015. This is a 67.5% increase from 2014.
- 240 million women are married under the age of 18 in India.(UNICEF, 2013).
- 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.
- 50% abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.
- Over 3.25 lakh children went missing between 2011 and 2014 (till June). 55% of those missing are girls and 45% children have remained untraceable.
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