New Delhi: India should improve protection for children from sexual abuse as part of broader reform efforts following the Dec 16 gang-rape and death of a young woman here, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
Child sexual abuse was disturbingly common in homes, schools and residential care facilities in India, the group said in an exhaustive 82-page report.
A government-appointed panel set up after the New Delhi sexual assault to recommend legal and policy reform found that child protection schemes have "clearly failed to achieve their avowed objective".
The report, "Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India," examines how current government responses are falling short, both in protecting children from sexual abuse and treating victims.
Many children were 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, Human Rights Watch said.
Government efforts to tackle the problem, including new legislation to protect children from sexual abuse, will also fail unless protection mechanisms were properly implemented and the justice system reformed to ensure that abuse is reported and fully prosecuted, it said.
"India's system to combat child sexual abuse is inadequate because government mechanisms fail to ensure the protection of children," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"Children who bravely complain of sexual abuse are often dismissed or ignored by the police, medical staff, and other authorities."
The report uses detailed case studies rather than a quantitative analysis to examine government mechanisms to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.
Human Rights Watch conducted more than 100 interviews with victims of child sexual abuse and their relatives, government child protection officials and independent experts, police officers, doctors, social workers, and lawyers who have handled cases of child sexual abuse.
Addressing child sexual abuse was a challenge all over the world, but in India shortcomings in both state and community responses add to the problem, Human Rights Watch said.
The criminal justice system, from the time police get a complaint until trials were completed, needs urgent reform.
Poorly trained police often refuse to register complaints. Instead, they subject the victim to mistreatment and humiliation.
Doctors and officials said the absence of guidelines and training for sensitive medical treatment and examination of victims of child sexual abuse contributed to trauma.
"It is hard enough for a sexually abused child or their relatives to come forward and seek help, but instead of handling cases with sensitivity Indian authorities often demean and re-traumatize them," Ganguly said.
The sexual abuse of children in residential care facilities for orphans and other at-risk children was a particularly serious problem, the report said.
Many privately run facilities were not even registered. As a result, the government had neither a record of all the orphanages and other institutions in the country nor a list of the children they were housing.
Abuse occurs even in supposedly well-run and respected institutions because of poor monitoring, the report said.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to provide training and resources to ensure that police, doctors, court officials, and government and private social workers responded properly when there were allegations of child sexual abuse.