While some awareness have been raised about sexual violence against women in India, much less is known about the problem of sexual abuse of children. According to a study conducted by India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, 53% of children surveyed said they had been subjected to some form of sexual and physical abuse. The government-sponsored survey, based on interviews with 12,500 children in 13 different states, reported serious and widespread sexual abuse. Smaller surveys conducted by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also depicted a similar disturbing trend. These studies suggest that more than 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year and experts believe that many more cases go unreported.
Children are sexually abused by relatives at home, by people in their neighbourhoods, at school, in residential facilities for orphans and other at-risk children. Most of such cases are not reported. Many are mistreated a second time by the criminal justice system that often does not want to hear or believe their accounts, or take serious action against their perpetrators. The stigma rising from social and cultural norms is the prime reason that most of the cases of violence against women and children, especially against girls, and cases of sexual violence go unreported.
Moumita Dastidar, Communications Specialist, UNICEF India, said to BE, “In case of violence in children, the boys are often sexually abused and the girls are at risk of suffering various kinds of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at home and in the society. These incidences are still talked in hushed tones and parents are uncomfortable to explain the incidences to their child. We need the parents to talk more about it. Keeping that door of dialogue open, so that the children feel safe and share comfortably with their parents which is very important. Teachers have a very big role in talking about good touch and bad touch. We need to create an environment to talk about these issues and make it a part of our everyday conversations.”
Sexual abuse that occurs during a child’s development can have adverse effects on certain developmental processes, such as emotional regulation, cognitive style, and coping mechanisms and thus entail long-term consequences. The most common effects of sexual abuse in children are symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological distress and inappropriate sexual behaviour which carries over into adulthood and affect married life and parenthood.
UNICEF recently celebrated 70 years of service for children in the country (1949-2019), marking its partnership with the Government of India. In West Bengal, UNICEF celebrated the occasion in collaboration with Nicco Park, Kolkata with 150 children from government child care institutions. The organisation recommitted to ‘End Violence Against Children’ and urged everyone to join in the movement. Mohammad Mohiuddin, Chief, UNICEF Office for West Bengal shared during the event, “UNICEF and the government cannot do this alone. Talk to your children, teach them to say no, report immediately to the children’s helpline at 1098 or to the Child Welfare Police Officer at the nearest police station in case of any incidence.”
UNICEF has been working closely with the government, police, judiciary, communities and children to create more awareness, for creating child-friendly spaces, child-friendly police stations and child-friendly courts. The state is now rolling out a ‘School Safety Programme’ to ensure that children are safe not only in schools but also on their way to school.