Down Dark Alleys
The weekly news roundup was full of the scam and of the unholy nexus between our media, politicians and corporate mafias. It was hard to believe many young, apparently innocuous looking women reporters were at the helm of the dirty games. In the middle of all this, was this news item which caught my attention.
India will soon have its first law to deal exclusively with child sexual abuse cases. The provisional draft of the bill, titled ‘Sexual Offences Against Children Bill, 2010', seeks to substitute the word ‘rape' with technical terms and cover several forms of abuse of both boys and girls, which now remain grey areas in the absence of a specific legislation. The proposed legislation calls for setting up of special courts, special prosecutors and child friendly courts. The information was given to the media by the Union Minister for law, Veerappa Moili, last week.
At present, cases of sexual offences against children are being tried under the Indian Penal Code, which does not take into consideration the age of the victim. With such offences attracting only such sections that deal with rape, unnatural offences and outraging the modesty of a woman, many sexual offences against children, especially those against boys, were not getting a focused trial, it was felt.
It is a long-hidden issue that India is finally beginning to wrestle with. The scale of abuse, according to a National study, is far worse than anybody had thought. (Ministry of Women and Child Development : "Study on Child Abuse: India 2007) It reports that 69 per cent of all Indian children are victims of physical, mental or emotional abuse, with New Delhi’s children facing an astounding abuse rate of 83.12 percent.
The survey, which involved interviews with 12,447 children, also highlighted that, it is usually family members (89 percent) who perpetrate such crimes and that more boys face physical abuse (72.61) than girls (65 per cent). Overall, Indian children were found to be victims of a slew of sexual crimes … rape, sodomy, exposure to pornographic material, fondling, forcible kissing and sexual advances, among others. The study also noted that child sexual abuse in India begins as early as five, ratchets up dramatically during pre-pubescence and peaks at 12 to 16 years. Ironically, 71 per cent of sexual assault cases in India go unreported.
This means, the chances are, every other child you see on the road is a victim to some kind of sexual abuse. Hard to believe?
India is home to more than 375 million children, comprising nearly 40 percent of our population, the largest number of minors in any country in the world. Despite its ethos of non-violence, tolerance, spirituality and a new emerging trillion-dollar economy, India hosts the world's largest number of sexually abused children, at a far higher rate than any other country. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every four girls and one in every seven boys in the world are sexually abused, hardly encouraging, but still far below India’s totals.
Worse, child abuse is one of the least documented violations in the country, records author Grace Poore in the book, The Children We Sacrifice, which deals with the wide prevalence of child sexual abuse in India.
The reasons are manifold. In India, much like the rest of Asia, children are expected to respect and obey authority figures such as teachers, religious guides, and principals and not question their actions. Rebellion is perceived as a sign of a bad upbringing. This sensibility perpetuates a culture of abuse by encouraging sexual predators.
Also, Indian adults often exercise a very tight hold over their children, demanding complete and unquestioned obedience. A culture of silence and shame also swirls around cases of sexual violence against children. Unsurprisingly, the notion of shame is the single largest culprit in perpetuating sexual violence against India’s children.
Apart from the legal dimension, child sexual abuse has serious psychological and emotional elements. Worldwide surveys point out that such abuse negatively impacts a child’s physical, emotional and mental well-being, leading to severe behavioral and psychiatric disorders. Suicidal tendencies and drug abuse are common long-term effects.
A WHO survey also points out that there is an unambiguous behavioral and emotional pattern in the abused. Usually the child hardly talks about the incident. And, even if he or she does, no one takes it seriously. That in turn triggers feelings of self doubt and guilt, exacerbating the child’s feeling that it is his or her fault. As the child matures, compulsive behavior reinforces this guilt. Small wonder, that many adult sexual problems, according to psychoanalysts, trace their roots to childhood abuse.
Where, then, does the solution lie? Educating and enlightening kids about such issues, helping them distinguish between “good” and “bad” touch, is a partial answer. Children also ought to be made aware of impulsive decisions they may make under pressure from teachers, bullies and abusers. Sex education in schools is also productive. The Netherlands, a country where teenage pregnancy rates plummeted from 60 per cent to about 25 per cent through aggressive sex information campaigns in schools, is an example. But attempts to introduce sex education in to our curriculum has faced strong objections from many quarters.
With child sexual abuse attracting so much scrutiny and public debate, the government has the added impetus to adopt strong and unequivocal measures to contain such crimes. For a country with nearly 40 per cent of its populace comprised of children, such measures are overdue.