Some of the recent cases that took place in the capital have once again heightened the world’s concern over violence against women in India. However, this time it has also brought to light the issue of child sexual abuse. More than one third of India’s population is below the age of 18, which is about 19% of the world’s children. Addressing child sexual abuse is a challenge all over the world, but in India these issues are more pronounced due to the shortcomings in the system
In 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development conducted a survey based on interviews with almost 12,500 children in 13 different states and reported serious and widespread sexual abuse, thereby putting the government on notice about the gravity of the problem. The survey revealed children in the 5-12 years age group are most at risk of abuse and exploitation. Furthermore it found that 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls and almost 50% abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. Smaller surveys conducted by nongovernmental organisations have also painted a disturbing picture. The 2013 report by Asian Centre for Human Rights stated that more than 48,000 child rape cases were recorded from 2001 to 2011, and that India saw a massive increase of child rape cases from 2,113 cases to 7,112 cases.
In 2012, Indian Parliament passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, which incorporates child friendly procedures for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and trial of offences. However, a report released by Human Rights Watch stresses that a government appointed committee in January 2013 itself found that the government’s child protection schemes “have clearly failed to achieve their avowed objective.”
Child sexual abuse is an immensely traumatic experience. In the long run the child may experience a number of psychological effects. These may include:
• Depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping.
• Low self esteem.
• “Damaged goods” syndrome, i.e. negative body image due to self blame. This may be intensified if physical pain was experienced during the abusive incidents.
• Dissociation from feeling.
• Social isolation.
• Relationship problems such as an inability to trust, poor social skills or a reluctance to disclose details about themselves.
• Self destructive behaviour such as substance abuse or suicide
• Sexual difficulties such as fear of sex or intimacy, indiscriminate multiple sex partners or difficulty in reaching orgasm.
• Parenting problems such as fear of being a bad parent, or fear of abusing the child or being overprotective.
• An underlying sense of guilt, anger or loss.
• “Flashbacks” and/or panic attacks.
It is important to note that alongside stringent rules, trained staff and workers play a crucial role in dealing with victims of child sexual abuse. Our country needs an organised system wherein trained professionals such social workers, psychologists, doctors and investigating officers can come together to avoid any mishandling. Most of the time the police is insensitive in their method of questioning and the doctors aren’t trained for emergency examination for rape victims which only adds on to the trauma.
Swati Maliwal, chair of the Delhi Commission for Women, called the recent crime on a toddler “absolutely disgusting”, asking on Twitter: “When will Delhi wake up?” Indeed, not just Delhi but the entire nation must realise the serious implications of these cases and the global focus on women’s safety in India.
Madhumita Pandey is an Associate Fellow and Academic Researcher at Anglia Ruskin University