If the word child sex abuse conjures up an image of a helpless girl child in your mind, think twice. For, there are an equal number of boys who are being subjected to this trauma.
But that’s just not all. About two-thirds of children in our country are physically abused while more than half of them encounter some form of sexual abuse. Sadly however, around 70 per cent of such abused children never report the matter to anyone.
But when it comes to sexual abuse, the statistics are even more alarming: Some 53.22 per cent of children who have been sexually abused keep their harrowing experience under wraps.
These appalling trends were the findings of a landmark study a study by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development with the help of the United Nations Children's Fund and Save the Children.
Though a year old (the survey was published in 2007), the growing number in child abuse cases only add an element of fear in every parent’s mind. “It’s just unbelievable that this is happening in India. I am really scared to send my daughter alone now-a-days,” says Sabitha, a mother of a 12-year-old daughter.
“We are called a conservative society and see such incidents on the rise is terrifying,” comments Raj, a retired government employee.
However, Vidya Reddy of Tulir, an organisation working to create awareness about child sex abuse, says that this is just not new. “These crimes have been happening in India for a long time, all under wraps. It’s only now that they are being openly talked about it,” she says.
In many of the cases, the social stigma attached to such sensitive crimes helps the offender go scot-free. “ A niece of mine was sexually abused by a bus conductor. However, from the next day, her parents started sending her in a car rather than take any action,” says Satish, an IT professional in Chennai.
“The fear of the society and the social stigma attached to it is what lends the offenders more teeth,” fumes Vidya, who puts in her maximum effort to ensure that offenders in such cases get the due punishment.
Even police sources acknowledge that in many instances, the parents and relatives are not willing to report such cases to them. “As there are too many stakeholders involved, it is a tough call to take,” says Satish.
“Most time, it’s next door uncle, neighbourhood aunty, or the cousins within the family who end up as offenders,” says Vidya. Reiterating her statement, the national study cites that 88.6 per cent of children face physical abuse from their own kith and kin. The study also shows data that 50 per cent of sex abuse crime is committed by people known to the child or those who hold a position of trust and responsibility.
Manisha (name changed), a doctor by profession whose daughter was abused by a 50-year-old neighbour living next door, echoes similar sentiments,. “I did not even in the wildest of my thoughts that a person as elderly as my father, would harm my child. Luckily, my daughter alerted me and I was able to help her. But when it came to going to the police, I had to factor in the future of my daughter,” she says.
Scary national statistics reports 41.17 per cent of children in the 5-12 age group being forcibly kissed while around 25.86 per cent of teenagers being forced to exhibit their private parts.
As much as 41.33 per cent of children in the 5-12 age group and 25.29 per cent in the 13-14 age-group reported abuse during marriages and other family ceremonies.
“Educating the child about the impending danger is a must,” says Vidya. For this purpoe, Tulir, in association with a number of schools, has come up with a campaign to educate the children about safeguarding themselves.
But not all schools seem to welcome the idea. Some of them feel that allowing such campaigns in schools will tarnish their image. “One of the top most school in the city refused to allow us even to distribute our pamphlets saying that it will give children new ideas,” says Vidya.
Amidst the increasing number of such crimes world over, it is imperative to educate our children about safeguarding themselves and encouraging them to come out in the open if they encounter any such assault.
All that is required, is a bit of frankness and an open mind!