Child Sexual Abuse — The Hidden Facts

On December 28th, 2018, the cabinet approved the amendment for the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act, 2012. The amendment focused on more stringent punishments to discourage child sexual abuse. This added another legal measure to the list protect the future of our country, which includes the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS), Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSY), the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) act, Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act, The Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education Act, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act among others.

According to the NIH, a total of 33,098 cases of sexual abuse of children were reported in year 2011 compared to 26,694 reported in 2010: an increase of 24%. Furthermore, 7,112 cases of child rape were reported during 2011 as equated to 5,484 in 2010, depicting a growth of 29.7%. India has the world’s largest number of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases: every 2.5 hours a child younger than 16 years is raped; after every 13 hours a child under 10; and one in every 10 children is sexually abused at any point of time. Studies propose that over 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year,  of which many cases go unreported. It is estimated by the government that 40% of India’s children are susceptible to threats like being homeless, trafficking, drug abuse, forced labor, and crime. In India, every other child is exposed to some form of sexual misconduct and one in five faces severe sexual abuse. However, though age is a key factor, it isn’t the only contributor to increasing risks children face. Other factors include, being differently-abled, defenselessness, passivity and so on.

A survey on demographic and health was conducted by the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) in India from 2005 to 2013, which reported that ten per cent of Indian girls might have experienced sexual violence when they were 10–14 years of age and 30% during 15–19 years of age. Overall, nearly 42% of Indian girls have gone through the trauma of sexual violence before they reach the age of twenty. According to Carson et al., excluding children aged 1-5 years of age, one-fifth to half of the country’s population might have faced some form of sexual abuse at least once in their life.

The abusers usually look and act like everyone else, and rarely have a distinctive behaviour to help distinguish them. 95% of the time, the perpetrators are people the child knows. Around 30% of the time, the sexual abuse is by a family member. About 60% of the time, the perpetrator is someone who the family trusts. As many as 40% of the children sexually abused are abused by older or more powerful children.

While these statistics might seem scary, what is scarier is perhaps the fact that these are not just numbers, but actual children and their stories of abuse. This brings us to the heartbreaking realisation of the very real existence of the problem. Children who have faced sexual abuse usually experience serious long and short term effects, which include low self esteem, facing excessive guilt, shame and self blame, and a difficulty in maintaining relationships and sexual intimacy. Apart from this, survivors of child sexual abuse may face mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, substance abuse, helplessness, negative attribution, aggressive behavior, conduct problem, eating disorders and anxiety. Recent studies have also shown that there is a correlation between child sexual abuse and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, delusional disorders and personality disorders.

This helps us understand the wide extent and possibly catastrophic and pervasive nature of child sexual abuse. Yet, there are many countries, including ours, without a foolproof legal support system for the children, which only increases their vulnerability.  Moreover, the issue of CSA is still a taboo in our country, and people prefer to turn a blind eye towards it. There are other flaws in our social system as well: most medical professionals aren’t equipped with the skills to examine sexual abuse in children, sexual abuse of boys is still widely neglected and many people still refuse to believe their children when they try to communicate the nature of the crime being done against them.

Though change isn’t possible overnight, we must try and fight against child sexual abuse by spreading awareness about it, standing up for the rights of children, and at an individual level, try to identify and help children going through it.

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