Child Sexual Abuse: A Frightening Reality

Nineteen long years and the conquest of a true friend brought justice for Ruchika Girhotra who was ruthlessly molested and pressurized to commit suicide. The incidence has not only brought to light the apathy of the top government officials but has raised a much neglected issue: Child sexual abuse. We sympathized with the victim and her family thinking this was a rare incidence and our children are safe. But thousands of children today are vulnerable to the same fate as Ruchika’s. Statistics reveal that one out of every two children in India has been a victim of sexual abuse in some form or another.

Sexual abuse of children is frightening, often unimaginable and an abhorrent crime. Child sexual abuse is any act that is directed at a child by an adult or older person for the sexual gratification of the adult or older person.

While it’s the moral obligation for adults to ensure children are protected, we remain silent. The shocking truth is that the enemy no longer lurks outside the homes- he is right here, within the four walls of his house. Unsurprisingly, the notion of shame is the single largest culprit in perpetuating sexual violence against India’s children. The discomfort caused if acknowledged, the denial that our children can be sexually abused, family reputation at stake, sheer ignorance. So how do we deal with this enemy?

Traditionally in India the responsibility of care and protection of the child has been with the families and the communities. Elders exercise a near feudal role over the children and they are seldom treated as individuals in their own rights. While the constitution of India guarantees many fundamental rights to children they are still the victims of many evils.

With the adoption of the rights based approach in the newly created ministry of Women and Child development, issues that were hitherto came to the forefront. As per a study carried out by the ministry in 2007 over 53% children in India are sexually abused in some form when young. India having 440 million persons below the age of 18 houses the second largest number of children. Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, reported the highest number of cases, while 50 % of the abusers were known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. The study also showed that 90% of the respondents did not report the matter to anyone.

The gravity of the situation demands that the issue be put on the national agenda. In fact the only legal recourse available to such victims is the extensions of rape laws mentioned in the IPC which are applicable only to adults. With no legal aid available the victim is forced to suffer silently.

The proposition of drafting of the Offences against Children Bill (2005) is a step in the right direction.

But mere legislations are no solution. A more comprehensive approach involving awareness and prevention must be undertaken at all levels. Society and its stakeholders must work together to prevent such horrifying inhuman acts.

A society’s integrity and worth is not based on whether cases of sexual abuse exist or not. Instead the acceptance of the possibilities and proactive steps taken to respond in a timely and appropriate manner define the society. Therefore parents and the society must look for signs and stand up against the sabotage of a person’s right to childhood. We MUST safeguard our future.

Sana Memon

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