Yet to break the deafening silence

In a Parliamentary Forum discussing matter related to children, I came across some startling data about the incidents of child…

Yet to break the deafening silence

Representational image (Photo: Getty Images)

In a Parliamentary Forum discussing matter related to children, I came across some startling data about the incidents of child abuse in India. One cannot help but acknowledge that it brings up several uncomfortable questions.

Yet, I firmly believe that this discussion needs to happen, more so in these current times, so we can banish our comfortable notions that income, class or level of education can help protect our children. Fuelled by societal myths and stereotypes, such as “only strangers abuse children”, “parents do not abuse their own children”, “boys do not get abused”, “women never abuse”, “children don’t abuse other children” etc, child sexual continues to remain an unfortunate reality affecting the lives of perhaps billions of children and families.

According to ChildLine India Foundation, India is home to the highest child abuse cases in the world. A survey by United Nations International Children Education Fund on demographic and health was conducted in India from 2005 to 2013, which reported that 10 per cent of Indian girls might have experienced sexual violence when they were 10 to 14 years of age and 30 per cent during 15 to19 years of age.


Children account for 42 per cent of the India’s population and sexual abuse is one of the brutal crimes committed against them. Consider these facts —one out of every two children in India is sexually abused, most never report it, and 52 per cent of the cases are boys. As per a telling report published by the ministry of women and child development, close to 70 per cent of children abused never report the matter to anyone.

What these numbers represent are more than the failure of the government, but rather the failure of the society as a whole to address or arrest this problem at any level. In addition to compelling statistics related to the incidence of sexual abuse and assault, there is mounting evidence that early victimisation places persons at risk of subsequent psychological problems. Studies related to the impact of sexual abuse in childhood, for example, indicate an association of the experience with significant mental health problems in adulthood.

High rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, dissociative disorders, interpersonal dysfunction, sexual problems, and suicidality have all been identified to varying degrees among women and men who survive sexual abuse. The experience of sexual abuse for a child distorts her or his self-concept, orientation to the world, and affective capabilities.

Even one child’s silence is massively dangerous because on average a single molester will abuse more victims. Despite this risk, police and doctors encourage to not report it. The undertone of these statements is that exemplary Indian fear — log kya kahenge? Under the POSCO Act, Uttar Pradesh led the highest number of child abuse cases (3,078) followed by Madhya Pradesh (1,687 cases), Tamil Nadu (1,544 cases), Karnataka (1,480 cases) and Gujarat (1,416 cases).While the cases are huge, the number of convictions is only 2.4 per cent of the total cases registered while in 389 cases accused were acquitted.

Supreme Court, through various orders over the years, tried to expand the scope of addressing children’s rights generally, to ensure that the provisions for the protection of children were implemented, and to obtain information regarding efforts made by respective governments. The Court noted that the lack of empathy and “complete apathy with respect to the disturbingly increasing instances of child sexual abuse” and ineffective implementation of the laws are virtually rendering parliamentary legislation irrelevant.

The Court also observed that the registration process of residential care institutions in India was incomplete despite the adoption of the Juvenile Justice Act which mandated the registration of all institutions by 15 July 2016. The court also suggested foster care and adoption to be seriously considered as an alternative to institutionalisation of children.

A focus on deficits can also be rationalised by equity concerns for the more disadvantaged in society. For example, including indicators of child abuse in the measure of well-being may be important in an equity sense, even though such problems do not affect a sizeable majority of children. Considering child well-being as a positive continuous variable directs policy attention away from the less well-off children who are picked up by deficit measures.

Systemic policy changes would always be welcome, but laws and policies will eventually be implemented by the members of the society. These need to cultivate the necessary sensitivity to comprehend with the pain and loss of control that a child experiences when they are placed in these despicable situations. The first step would be to recognise that they are preyed upon by those close to them. No amount of awareness of education can help, if those who the young victims rely on disbelieve and choose to silence them.

Ending the deafening silence around child abuse would give those living in fear and sustained abuse, a ray of hope. This is not simply an issue for one family or community — it is a public health issue that affects society as a whole. To prevent abuse, we have to break through the stigma and shame, and talk about how the sexual abuse of children happens. It’s the only way we will be able to stop what is arguably the number one health crisis that children face today. Steps need to be taken at each level from parents to police to doctors to Courts.

There is no longer a question of whether child sexual abuse is a criminal justice problem or a social services problem or a mental health problem, for its power pervades the territory of each. The question must now lie in the resolve of all professionals to overcome scepticism with acknowledgement, disbelief with understanding, indifference and indignance, and reluctance to intervene with an unswayable intolerance of the victimisation of all children.

(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha)