Friday, 25 May 2007
sexually abused children
One in every two children in India is sexually, physically or emotionally abused.Seventy per cent of abused children do not report it to anyone.Maternal and paternal uncles are the biggest culprits in most abuse casesBoys are as susceptible to abuse as girlsSpare the rod and spoil the child – in a country where this age-old dictum seems to work comfortably with both parents and teachers, a shocking study has confirmed that there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding child abuse in India.Ministry of Women and Child Development’s first ever report on child abuse that reveals 53 per cent children in India – that’s one in every two children - are sexually, emotionally and physically abused by people they trust.The study also reveals that maternal and paternal uncles are among the biggest culprits in most abuse cases. So is child abuse inherent in the Indian society? And are parents and teachers to blame for the alarming rise in abuse figures?On the India 360 panel to discuss the disturbing reality, its pitfalls and the big question were Joint Secretary-Ministry of Women and Child Development Lovleen Kacker; child psychologist Aruna Broota; and child rights activist and Advisor to NGO Butterflies Gerry Pinto.Whether or not society as a whole can be held responsible for the state of Indian child was debatable but one thing that the experts unanimously agreed upon was that to prevent children from being abused, they must be made aware of the dangers that exist around them.Child abuse: India’s worst kept secret?Encouraging parents to talk with their children about relationship, sex and good touch versus the bad touch can be a healthy start.Kacker, who was one of the co-authors of the report, said even they were shocked at the findings. “The question here is not to sensationalise the findings. It’s time for nations to wake up to what’s happening and to see as to how we can deal with it at all levels – whether it’s the family, society or the state. This is the challenge before us. Maybe it was always happening and we never had either stats or knowledge to talk about it. It was always there. In fact, like the Minister (Renuka Chowdhry) has said there’s a conspiracy of silence around it. In homes, in families, sexual abuse wasn’t uncommon,” said Kacker.Is child abuse one of India’s worst kept secrets? According to the report, 12-year-olds fall in the high-risk category, 70 per cent children do not report abuse to anyone and boys are equally vulnerable to abuse as girls. The reality holds true across social spectrum – be it upper or middle class or the slums. Experts say the conspiracy of silence permeates deep. “When we started off by saying it was shocking, I wouldn’t say it was shocking for people who have been working with issues related to abuse of children. It’s been very disturbing for them. But what’s been shocking is the traditional silence that both government and civil society have kept on this subject. In terms of creating space for children to speak up, we ban sex education , we don’t want children to know about the basics of sex. Now if that’s the kind of ethos or mindset of Indians, we’ll all be comfortable keeping this issue under the carpet. Unless we speak up openly, it will continue,” said Pinto.But is there a universal criterion to categorise abused children? For example, in a typical Indian family it’s common for a mother to admonish or even slap a child, knowing little that this may fall under “dangerous touch”. “We live in a culture where slogan like ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ still prevails. So we believe that if we beat up children they get more disciplined and develop more fear which gets translated into respect and regard. I will quote to you and excerpt from a study which I and my husband did years back and we found that there were child-rearing practices that were culturally very different and that Pakistanis and Indians rear children in one way and Westerners rear their children in another way. The study said we people rear our children through negative reinforcement and that’s corporal punishment. The West has evolved and realised the hazard of it and so they talk to their children but are at a stage where they abandon their children,” said Broota. Don’t we know how to rear kids?Is the Indian approach to child rearing wrong? “I think we need to serioslu look at child-rearing practices and parenting skills. Beating up children seems rampant across the board. We need to know where disciplining stops and where abuse begins. It’s a thin line. When you look at emotional abuse – two children can be treated in the same way and while one can feel abused, other may not. It’s very essential to understand the kind of behaviour being doled out to children and how will perceive it. In no society, there’s a need for physical disciplining of the child. There is enough evidence to show the impact of physical disciplining of the child,” said Kacker. One of the other shocking findings of the report have it that the chachas and the mamas (paternal and maternal uncles) are the biggest abusers in the family. Doe sit mean that abuse in inbuilt in our culture?Broota opined that there’s a difference in Indian and Western child-rearing practices. “Abuse in inbuilt in another way. It’s an authoritative society which is now beginning to realise its drawbacks. With that authorirttative nature, you trust not the child but the elders around and say ‘these are your seniors so you shut up and don’t talk about them in such a demeaning way.’ So we don’t trust our children in our culture. Another dimension is that beating to the extent to inflicting psychological or physical injury is a psychiatric or a personality disorder in the parent which goes undiagnosed. When you become parenst without realizing you are a parent, you aren’t psychologically prepared for it. It’s only after the second child that you realise this,” said Broota.However, Kacker disagreed and also pointed out that abuse needn’t necessarily begin at home. Schools and educational institutions are also equally at risk.“I differ from Aruna about the psychiatric disorder but. Such a large percentage of parents cannot be facing disorder. In a largely patriarchial society where authority stems from the father figure, domestic abuse seems to be a part of the system. Parents and teachers need to be sensitised about parenting skills. And it’s not just homes, we have found that in more than 60 per cent schools there’s beating up of children. This includes teachers, principal, institutional care-givers and employers of child workers,” said Kacker.Speaking out and the conspiracy of silenceWhile all agreed that the child needs to emphatic and speak out about the abuse, Pinto felt it was way too idealistic a situation to expect an abused child to stand up.“I don’t think you can make a generalisation. But what is desirable is in between the two. One is that you need to have an education and environment that empowers children. But talking about one-year-old and two-year-old kids being raped, you cannot put the onus of protection on the child. What is the adult society and public system doing? I think it’s high time we moved away from the academics of the subject and got to action,” said Pinto. Experts also agreed that a child must not be treated as a possession, but an individual. The parent-child relationship in India is a “sick” relationship and needs to become healthy. “Children are looked upon as possession by the parents. So if something belongs to you, you feel you have the right to do whatever you want with him. Hindi films don’t exaggerate when they show the parental possession and obsession with governing their child’s life. You are not giving child any space in life,” said Kacker.So what is the best form of remedial action? “The first step towards this has been this study. It will be unfortunate if it’s not implemented. You need to develop a policy that is sensitive to child protection and put in place system that’s effective in implementing the policy. Have a policy and legislation to implement it,” said Pinto.So should it be parents or children who need to be sensitised first? “I think it has to be parents and teachers who must be sensitized. Workshops should be conducted on effective and positive parenting,” said Broota.