India's abused children: What is the solution?

Last Updated: Fri, Jul 21, 2017 09:30 hrs
Indian school students shout slogans as they participate in an awareness Campaign against Child Sex Abuse (CSA) in Hyderabad on November 19, 2014, the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse.

A report tucked away among analyses of the Supreme Court’s take on Aadhaar and the Shiv Sena’s reaction to a rap song mocking Bombay’s potholes and the battle between maids and memsahibs in a luxury apartment complex has horrified those who chanced upon it – a 10-year-old child from Chandigarh, who has become pregnant from repeated sexual abuse by an uncle, is six months pregnant; and a medical panel has ruled that an abortion would be more dangerous for her than to carry the baby to term.

In addition to having been raped consistently by a known and trusted person, she will be left with the physical and psychological scars of having undergone childbirth at an age when her peers likely believe that babies are dropped off by storks.

Which is the greater cruelty, the abuse or the court order on July 18?

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act bans abortions of a healthy foetus beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother’s life is at risk. In this particular case, the mother’s life is at risk either which way.

Only a couple of months ago, a court in Haryana permitted a 10-year-old child from Rohtak to abort at 21 weeks. The child’s mother said the former had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather.

There is a problem in India, and it is not receiving the media attention it should.

A report by Childline shows that a child under 10 is raped every 13 hours.

And a search for rape cases with child victims over the last week turns up a frightening number of instances.

On July 11, a 3-year-old girl from Nadiara in Purulia was hospitalised with fever and was found to have fractured arms, and seven needles inserted in her stomach, ribs and private parts. On being questioned, her mother reluctantly said the child had been abused by her employer, a retired homeguard called Sanatan Thakur, whose family says he is on the run. The child’s sexual abuse is believed to have been part of a “black magic ritual” that he may have performed.

On Monday, July 17, a 48-year-old engineer Anil Kumar was arrested in Ghaziabad for confinement and attempt to rape a 10-year-old neighbour.

On Tuesday, July 18, a 14-year-old boy raped his 5-year-old neighbour at Sadarpur in Noida. The child, who had gone to play at the home of the accused, came back bleeding, and a medical examination confirmed rape.

In February this year, a 7-year-old child was raped and killed by her 22-year-old neighbour Tashvant in Madras. Tashvant kept tabs on the police investigation by posing as a concerned neighbour, until a tip-off led to his arrest. Police later said he had lured her to his home when she was playing outside on a Sunday evening, when her parents had gone to the market with her younger brother. He had gagged her to stop her from screaming for help as he sexually assaulted her. She died from asphyxiation, and Tashvant disposed of her corpse at a garbage dump, and went on to partially burn her body.

Within weeks, a 3-year-old girl’s body had been recovered from another garbage dump and a medical examination showed she had been raped.

Every time we come across such a case, we are shocked. And yet, little has been done to protect the children. The issue that is most often addressed is the culture of silence around sex and sexual abuse. But child sexual abuse cannot be tackled with a short lecture on good touch and bad touch.

There are other cultural problems that we need to address – it is not just the silence that makes children vulnerable, but the easy accessibility. It is quite common for parents to leave their children in the care of a neighbour or relative. We don’t have professional, vetted babysitters who are paid for their service.

It is considered normal for one’s neighbours, friends, and even total strangers to play with a child or pet a baby in the presence of its parents. The parents typically look on with benign pride; never suspicion.

While various NGOs have campaigned for a sexual offender registry, no effort seems to be on to make one for the use of the law enforcement, leave alone to make it public – a whole other debate.

The POCSO has provisions for severe punishment for child abusers, but there is no treatment centre in India for paedophiles. The terms “paedophile” and “child abuser” are used interchangeably, and few people are aware of paedophilia as an orientation. There is, in fact, a sub-culture of paedophiles banding together to question the age of consent. And no one to offer them counselling without judgment.

The Indian government is keen to ban all porn. But is it keeping tabs on child porn websites specifically? Are agencies scouring the dark net for abusers and potential abusers?

For as long as we hesitate to acknowledge the problem, there cannot be a solution. And we will continue to live in a country where a 10-year-old rape victim must carry her rapist’s baby to term.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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