Breaking the Silence Finally on Child Sexual Abuse

Anjali Singh - CNS
Child Sexual Abuse is a topic few are ready to discuss much less address. Thus it came as a welcome surprise when in May 2012 the Indian Parliament enacted its first law specifically outlawing child sexual abuse. Prior to that the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act being notified,  different forms of abuse with children in India was covered by laws not designed to address them. So if a girl suffered non-penetrative sexual abuse it would be classified as “assault with intent to outrage the modesty of woman,” and if a boy suffered abuse it would be classified as per the draconian anti-homosexuality law that criminalized, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

But this would only help punish the perpetrator if the police and courts would recognize the crime as non-penetrative sexual acts. But whether the law would recognize it or not, Child Sexual Abuse has been a reality that children in India have been facing continuously irrespective of their gender or societal strata they belonged to. A fact that a recently released report by Human Rights Watch confirms in a report they released in Lucknow in Februray 2013. One look at the report on child sexual abuse termed, “Breaking the Silence-Child Sexual Abuse in India” and the horrifying reality would become  more than evident.

The report presents a dismal picture of child protection in the country particularly when it comes to preventing sexual abuse of minors within homes, schools and institutions. A comprehensive 82 page report, complete with case studies and expert comments, it proves beyond doubt the existence of child sexual abuse across classes. Highlighting inaction against the perpetrators, Human Rights Watch maintains while releasing the report that child sexual abuse in homes, schools and institutions for care and protection of children is quite common. They further stress that a government appointed committee in January 2013 itself found that the government child protection schemes, “have clearly failed to achieve their avowed objective.”

And this when in a statement released by Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF Representative to India, clearly establishes children in India are facing child sexual abuse . Arsenault states, “It is alarming that too many of these cases are children. One in three rape victims is a child. More than 7,200 children including infants are raped every year; experts believe that many more cases go unreported. Given the stigma attached to rapes, especially when it comes to children, this is most likely only the tip of the iceberg. ”

But as alarming as that sounds the current report released by Human Rights Watch is not the only study done in India on a subject of child sexual abuse. In 2007 the Indian government sponsored a survey called, “National Study on Child Abuse: India 2007” through the Ministry of Women and Child Development, GoI. The findings of the study was  based on interviews with 12,500 children in 13 different states, and reported serious and widespread sexual abuse, thereby bringing on record the gravity of the problem. Yet no concrete steps were initiated to deal with the problem and Renuka Chowdhry, the then Minister of Women and Child, went as far as describing the prevalence of child sexual abuse in India as “a conspiracy of silence”

What was really disturbing was the fact that the survey confirmed that 72 percent of the victims said they were abused and they did not report the matter to anyone. Only a small 3 percent of the victims’ families complained to the police or made the abuse public. Interestingly, prior to the GoI study in 2007, an India NGO named Recovery and Healing from Incest(RAHI) conducted India’s first study of child sexual abuse in 1998 called “Recovery and Healing from Incest, Voices from the Silent Zone(New Delhi 1998). The study interviewed 600 English-speaking middle and upper class  women out which 76 percent said they had been abused in their childhood or adolescence. Shockingly 40 percent said they had been abused by a family member mostly an uncle or a cousin. Yet despite the study making its findings public nothing much was done by the government or related agencies to address the problem with seriousness.

Explians Menakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, “While great awareness has been raised about sexual violence against women in India much less is known about the problem of child sexual abuse in India. Those children that have the courage to speak up against the sexual abuse they face, the police, medical experts and even their families refuse to take cognizance of it. The children are admonished for making the allegations and reprimanded by authority figures as well. We too faced a lot of difficulty in collecting information for the survey as no one was ready to talk about the abuse they had faced.” She adds, “The interviews we conducted from April and June 2012 and more than 100 people were interviewed including independent and government child protection experts and officials, police officials, doctors, social workers and lawyers. We also spoke to eight victims of child sexual abuse and relatives of another nine victims, who agreed to discuss their experiences. One of the victim was a male and seven were females.”

The study also investigated cases of CSA within institutions both private and government which had been well highlighted in the media between 2011-2012. In the absence of effective monitoring of residential care facilities like Apna Ghar and Drone Foundation in Haryana where children were housed within an institution for care and protection and abused by the people running the home were also studied. Cases of sexual abuse within the Shiv Kuti Shishu Grih, a government residential facility for girls in Allahabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh had girls between the ages of 6-12 years facing sexual abuse by an employee for over fifteen years and it was only discovered by chance are also included. Cases from homes in New Delhi, Karnataka, West Bengal, Goa, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were studied where alleged abusers were members of staff, older children and outside visitors including police officers. But addressing child sexual abuse, according to Human Rights  Watch report is a challenge the world over, but in India, shortcomings in both state and community responses add to the problem, as victims who come forward make a complaint often suffer as a result.

Ahmed, father of a 12 year old girl who was gang raped says, “My family was ostracized after my daughter said she was raped. The attack on her took place after three men abducted her one afternoon as she was walking back to her home in the northern city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. We decided to inform the police after seeing her condition and also as many school girls used the same street and we were afraid for their safety. But instead of supporting me my neighbors shunned me as my daughter was raped. The family of my elder daughter’s fiancé cancelled the engagement as they felt public knowledge of the attack on my daughter would bring shame to their family.”

But apart from facing social ostracism, Ahmed(name changed) also had to face the ire of the enforcement agencies, “The police discouraged me from registering the complaint and accused my family of lying. My daughter was continuously saying she was raped, but the police told us not to tell anyone and settle the case. When I refused the police grabbed me and slapped me several times, they also beat up my son.” Similar insensitive approach of the police is stated by another 12 year old victim in the report. Krishna(name changed), also from Uttar Pradesh says she was raped by a member of a politically influential family. When she complained to the police, instead of taking action against the perpetrator, they detained her at the police station over 12 days.

Recalls Krishna, “The police kept insisting that I change my statement otherwise they threatened that something would happen to me. They would also insult me and call me rude names. My parents kept trying to see me but they did not allow them to talk to me because they thought my parents would tell me to speak the truth.”

While the CSA report exposes police apathy of in cases of abuse with children it also make a strong point about the insensitive attitude of the medical fraternity in dealing with child rape victims. Says Krishna who went through a traumatic experience when she was asked to go through medical examination post rape, “The doctor asked me to lie down on a table and remove my clothes. When she examined me she inserted a single finger inside me. It hurt and I was scared. I did not like what the doctor was doing to me. She then said, “Oh, it was just a small rape, it’s no big deal.”

According to Menakshi Ganguly, “The finger test has been banned by the High Courts in most states, even forensic experts maintain that this test has no scientific importance yet it is be constantly used on victims. The doctors and medical experts examining a child who has been a victim of rape maintained when interviewed by us that in the absence of any training and  guidelines on how to carry out examinations of a child rape victims they have to use the existing procedures which are extremely traumatic for a child. In most cases we examined the finger test was used by doctors to examine a child rape victim.”

Agrees the mother of a three-year-old girl whose daughter had to undergo a medical examination after being raped and sodomized by her own father, “The whole experience was not only painful but distressing for both me and my daughter.  Instead of examining my child in a separate room, the examination was done in a blood stained labor ward in a govt hospital in Bengaluru which further traumatized her.  The doctor who conducted the examination was very young  who knew nothing of examining a rape victim, she kept asking my daughter if she had bled and could she walk after being raped. Then she pulled my child‘s leg back and she screamed in pain. After the examination my daughter could not pee for 6-8 hours because of the severe pain.”

As per Dr Shaibya Saldanha, a gynecologist who works with child sexual abuse survivors in Bengaluru, “Most doctors simply do not have the skills to perform such an important role. Unfortunately no doctor, whether a general practitioner or a gynecologist or a pediatrician has been given any training whatsoever regarding child abuse examination, interviewing, how to take care, what are rehabilitation procedures, medical and psychological needs of the child. They have no idea.”

A situation that is even worse  in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh shares Vinika Karoli , State Co-ordinator UP,  Quality Institutional Care and Alternative for Children, an organization that facilitated the release of the CSA Study in Lucknow, “There were too many cases happening in UP and MP and with no protection mechanism and in absence of state rules on the Juvenile Justice Act it was difficult to get a correct picture of the situation. Through an RTI we filed it came to light that govt in UP was pinning the number of CSA cases in 2011-2012 as low as 2-3 in a year, while we were seeing over 10-12 reported in a year and a larger number that were unreported. All this has been highlighted in the study of Human Rights Watch.”

Anjali Singh, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 2013

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