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How silence and apathy
May 25, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
How silence and apathy have killed our children's childhoods
and why it's important to speak out
By Purva Bhatia
 
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) – the term itself evokes horror, disgust and sometimes bad memories we would rather not acknowledge. But this monster is more prevalent in our very homes than we'd like to believe. We speak to the key stakeholders – parents, counsellors, schools – to find deterrents and solutions.
 
Afriendly uncle, elder cousin, caretaker, guardians and in worst cases even a parent – perpetrators live around us in supposed safe and secure surroundings. One of the most repugnant and unforgivable crimes, child sexual abuse (CSA) is more prevalent in our society than we realise. 
And yet only a few of us are willing to admit that this might have affected someone close to them. Not in the dark bylanes or secluded areas of small cities, instances of sexual abuse of children occur more commonly in familiar environments, usually home. Unfamiliar and unknown, of course, not discounted. Who can forget the gruesome case of baby Falak that shook the nation last year? A 15-yearold girl brought to a hospital an unnamed baby, who had human bite marks on her body and had been beaten up badly. It turned out that the teenager was a victim of rape and abuse while the mother of the baby was a certain 22-year-old, trafficked across many state borders.
 
But it's not a lower-class phenomenon; it's just that the so-called upper classes prefer not to acknowledge it. Many suffer silently, not talking about it. Take the case of Anoushka Shankar, daughter of legendary Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, who recently revealed she was sexually abused as a child by an acquaintance. "As a child, I suffered sexual and emotional abuse for several years at the hands of a man my parents trusted implicitly. Growing up, like most women I know, I suffered various forms of groping, touching, verbal abuse and other things I didn't know how to deal with, and I didn't know I could change," said the Indian composer.
 
Or consider the case of a 13-year-old girl, a high-school student from Andallur village in Kerala, who lodged a police complaint in 2012 stating that her father, 15-yearold brother and uncle were constantly raping her for the last two years. Orphanages and hostels are other common places full of such sordid tales. There have been several reports of paedophile rackets being run under the garb of orphanages. However, most children do not report the cases. The Justice Verma committee made several recommendations to address the plight of the children subjected to abuse in such facilities. What is needed is an effective system to monitor every residential institution. Says Kiran Manral, co-founder, Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month campaign, "The most difficult task we found, surprisingly, is to get people to accept that CSA happens all around us.
 
It is actually the elephant in the room in Indian society. A study released in 2007 by the Ministry of Women Child Development titled 'Study on Child Abuse: 2007' reported that 53.22 per cent of children reported having faced sexual abuse. The study also reported that 50 per cent of abusers are known to the child or are in a position of trust and responsibility and most children had not reported the matter to anyone.
 
This makes it frighteningly, one in two children reportingCSA. Considering the fact that many children don't talk about their experience,these statistics get even scarier." (Read more about CSA Awareness Month p67) And the ones who do are often emotionally abused yet again by being dismissed orignored by the authorities. So says a recent 82-page report, 'Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India', by US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) that states sexual abuse is 'disturbingly common' in Indian homes, schools and care homes.
 
"The current government responses are insufficient both in protecting children from sexual abuse and treating the victims. Many children are effectively mistreated a second time by traumatic medical examinations and by police and other authorities who do not want to hear or believe their accounts," says the report.
 
Like in the case of class IX student of Mahakavi Bharathiar Sevalaya School in 2006. The student went to the lab to collect her belongings only to meet her male teacher who sexually abused her. When her friends came looking, the teacher threatened all of them against saying anything about the incident else they'd be dismissed from the school. The victim, however, complained to her class teacher and the matter went to police, who were asked to enquire and submit a report in four weeks. The police, however, ignored the directions and informed the case was over.
 
World Health Organisation (WHO)has even more disturbing revelations: India has the world's largest number of sexually abused children with a child below 16 years raped every 155th minute, a child below 10 every 13th hour and one in every 10 children sexually abused at any point of time. And 'child' here does not just refer to girl; in fact, the boy child is increasingly at risk.
 
Needless to say, the incidents leave a lifelong scar on the victims. Survivors of child sexual abuse may take years to come to terms with the outfall of abuse, especially if they have received no help from their families or specialists. As human-rights activist and author Pinki Virani noted in her unsettling book, Bitter Chocolate, "By and large the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are men, often men who are themselves survivors of child abuse, while women who have survived being abused in their childhood tend to turn their hatred inwards and perform acts of terrible damage on themselves," wrote Virani, herself a survivor of sexual abuse as a child.
 
So, what causes the continued perpetuation of the heinous crime? It is poor awareness, social stigma, and negligence, not of the kids but of parents and guardians in most cases. The stats and figures raise pertinent questions: Do we acknowledge that our children are not safe even at home? Why don't we discuss the issue of sexual abuse with our kids? Why don't we report the cases? And what can the law do to help us in the situation? The first step is to educate children at an early age so that they are aware and can tackle the situation better.
 
Experts and psychologists say parents too need to be sensitive to their children's signals and immediately take note of any unusual behaviour.
 
Most kids withdraw themselves and become unusually quiet. A major challenge also lies in the lack of basic guidelines and training amongst the medical workers and doctors as to how they need to treat victim of CSA sensitively though there are several NGOs and certain laws that offer help. While we need better implementation of protection mechanisms and reformed justice system, it is firstly important to acknowledge its occurrence around us. Awareness is the key.
 
PERP WALK
ACCORDING TO THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL OFFENSES ACT 2012
Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 3) – Not less than seven years; may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 4)
Aggravated Penetrative Sexual Assault (Section 5) – Not less than 10 years; may extend to imprisonment for life, and fine (Section 6)
Sexual Assault (Section 7) – Not less than three years which may extend to five years, and fine (Section 8 )
Aggravated Sexual Assault (Section 9) – Not less than five years which may extend to seven years, and fine (Section 10)
Sexual Harassment of the Child (Section 11) – Three years and fine (Section 12)
Use of Child for Pornographic Purposes (Section 13) – Five years and fine. For subsequent conviction, seven years and fine (Section 14 (1)
 
RESOURCES NGOS WORKING FOR CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE:
ARPAN
Office: 1st floor, 9/3 Cama Industrial Estate, Val Bhatt Road, Goregaon (E), Near Punjab National Bank, Mumbai 400 063 Tel: 26862444 / 26868444 Mobile: 98190 51444 Email: info@arpan.org.in
LAKSHAYAM
T 72, Jhagmal House, Hauz Khaz Village, New Delhi 110016 Tel: (011) 40817367 Email: contact@lakshyam.co.in
TULIR
J - 33/18, 7th street, Annanagar East, Chennai 600102 Tel : (044) 26192026 E-mail: tulircphcsa@yahoo.co.in
ELAAN
IB 150 Sector III Biddhannagar, Salt Lake, Calcutta, 700105 Tel: 98741 35992 E-mail: elaanspeak@yahoo.co.in

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