My Tehelka blog post for last week: Let’s break the silence

It must be old age, what else can explain that I completely forget for an entire week to cross link the Tehelka post here. Anyway, as the popular kahaawat goes, der aaye durust aaye, durustly presenting my post of February 14 on the Human Rights Watch report on CSA in India. Yup, another grim post. Steel your nerves. Here goes:

Rape_IllustrationLast week, Human Rights Watch released an 82 page report titled “Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India.” The report states what we all know, but refuse to take seriously, that child sexual abuse is on the increase, disturbingly common in homes, schools and residential care facilities in India and what is even scarier, is that our system to protect our children from such abuse is sadly inadequate.

The report mentions, and prominently so in its title itself, our uneasy collective silence around the uncomfortable topic of CSA. When we (a group of bloggers and tweeters) did the first CSA Awareness Month in April 2011, what we faced was a rigid denial that CSA happens in India. We were viciously trolled by those who maintained we were talking about things which were ‘anti Indian culture’. But slowly, over the course of the month, the stories emerged, most anonymous, almost every story heartbreaking, and with no differentiation between male and female. Almost everyone had a story to tell.

Child Sexual Abuse is rampant in India. The statistics bear this out. A government study in 2007 reported that two out of every three children in India were physically abused and that 53 percent of the nearly 12,300 surveyed children reported one or more forms of sexual abuse. According to other reports, over 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year in India. These are only the reported cases. We can only imagine the numbers, given so many cases go unreported. While releasing the report, the then Minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhury said, “In India there’s a tradition of denying child abuse. It doesn’t happen is what we normally say. But by remaining silent, we have aided and abetted the abuse of children.” The most disturbing part of the report was that over 70 percent of the children had NOT reported the abuse to anyone. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6539027.stm)

Six years later, nothing seems to have changed. We are still not talking enough about CSA. “The 82-page 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 are 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. Government efforts to tackle the problem, including new legislation to protect children from sexual abuse, will also fail unless protection mechanisms are properly implemented and the justice system reformed to ensure that abuse is reported and fully prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.” http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/07/india-child-sex-abuse-shielded-silence-and-neglect

To quote 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.”

With detailed case studies across 100 interviews with CSA victims, their relatives, government appointed child protection officials, experts, police persons, doctors, social workers and lawyers who have dealt with such cases, this report brings to the fore the fact that the state and the community make it even more difficult for the victim to come forward, report the matter and get justice.

To start with, there is a basic lack of guidelines and training amongst the medical workers and doctors as to how they need to treat a victim of CSA sensitively. Four of the cases documented by the HRW reported that the doctors used the finger test method to determine whether a girl child had been raped, even though it is well acknowledged that this method has no value forensically, and there have been calls for it to be abolished across India. A bench of the Supreme Court has issued notices to the Centre, Delhi Government and the National Commission for Women on a petition that seeks to frame guidelines for medico legal assistance provided to rape victims. The two finger test, where the doctors conduct investigations by inserting two fingers into the vagina of the victim, is used to determine the laxity or the hymen of the victim and leads to judgemental statements in the report like ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’ or ‘no sign of injury’ which by extension implies that the assault was not forced but consensual. To use such a test on a child seems unthinkable and the zenith of insensitivity. (http://news.oneindia.in/2013/01/12/why-two-finger-test-is-against-womans-dignity-1129902.html)

Residential care facilities are rife with reports of sexual abuse of the children in their care. Orphanages, juvenile detention centres and such have cases reported in the newspapers on a daily basis about the abuse the children suffer at the hands of those in charge of the facilities. And a minuscule number of these stories make it to the press, a majority of the horrific tales stay within the walls of these facilities with these forgotten children having no way to get their anguish out to the world.

“A 16-year-old mentally challenged girl has told the sessions court the story of how she was raped, sodomised, beaten, tortured and intimidated for years at a state-supported orphanage by the institution’s authorities. The girl, who narrated her story in long sessions spread over four days, was the first of 19 victims to depose at an in-camera hearing expedited and monitored by Bombay High Court. A deaf-mute child is expected to depose next, sometime next week. According to the prosecution, the victims — mentally and physically challenged girls between the ages of 14 and 18, at least four of whom are also deaf-mute — were physically abused for several years at the Kalyani Mahila Bal Seva Sanstha orphanage in Panvel before being rescued in March 2011.”

“Medical experts and other witnesses have already been examined. A few victims are in such bad shape that they will not be able to face sustained questioning. So we decided to bring in only a few witnesses. Police have recorded statements of victims before a magistrate, which is admissible in the trial court,” Special Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian said.

The Indian Express, 5 Sept 2012, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/teen-victim-of-orphanage-sexual-abuse-tells-horror-story-in-court/998061

Sexual abuse of children in such institutions is rampant because many of them are privately run and therefore not registered. There is a lack of adequate facilities for inspection and poor monitoring of even institutions which are registered and run by trusts and organizations. The Justice Verma committee made several recommendations to address the plight of the children subjected to abuse in such residential facilities. What is needed is an effective system to consistently monitor every residential institution, whether government or private or unregistered.

A huge leap has been taken with the passing of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, which now puts all forms of CSA as specific criminal offences. The law now allows for prosecution of an abuser for molestation and non-penetrative sex, in addition to rape. Earlier, abusers escaped punishment because there was no law that recognised non penetrative sex as abuse. The law also has guidelines in place for both the police and the judiciary to treat victims sensitively. There is also a provision for the setting up of specialist child courts to deal with CSA victims exclusively. Chhattisgarh has just announced the setting up of special children’s courts or Bal Nyayalays to deal with cases of crime against children. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/raipur/Special-courts-for-crime-against-children/articleshow/18438231.cms )

Interestingly, India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which make it mandatory for the government to protect children from sexual abuse and violence. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/07/india-child-sex-abuse-shielded-silence-and-neglect )

We have 19 percent of the world’s children; more than one third of our population comprises children below 18. This is our population advantage. We are a young country. But of these children, a conservative estimate of 40 percent have faced or will face CSA. What we need is to break the silence about CSA within homes and families, to realize that no ‘family honour’ means more than the need of a child to get justice and closure.

 Read the original here: http://blog.tehelka.com/lets-break-the-silence/

 

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About Kiran Manral

Author of The Face At The Window, ( 2016), Karmic Kids, All Aboard (2015) , Once Upon A Crush (2014) and The Reluctant Detective (2011).
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