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Human Rights

Child sexual abuse 'disturbingly common' in India

Social stigmas make it difficult for Indians to talk about the sexual abuse of children in public. Activists have also blamed the government for failing to adequately protect children.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the sexual abuse of children is widespread in India. Furthermore, it found the Indian government was not doing enough to safeguard the rights of children. HRW also reports that child sex abuse victims in the country are often "mistreated" and "humiliated" by government officials if they chose to seek help.

The study claims that most child abuse cases go unreported in India because in many cases children are abused close to home - either at home, school, in their neighborhood, or at orphanages.

India is home to around 430 million children. A 2011 report published by the Indian government found that around 40 percent of them were vulnerable to threats such as sexual abuse, trafficking, homelessness, forced labor, drug abuse, and crime.

Speaking out

Mark Dummett, consultant for the Asia Division at HRW, said the issue of child sexual abuse has been swept under the carpet and ignored in India for too long and that people were now slowly starting to talk openly about it.

"People now talk about sexual violence against women and also about sexual violence perpetrated on children," Dummett told DW.

Street children in Karachi, Pakistan
(Photo: DW/Rana Asif Habib)

Children from all social classes and backgrounds are susceptible to abuse

Kalpana Misra, a New-Delhi based journalist and activist, was abused at the age of eight by a family friend.

"It went on for about a year. I didn't really know what was happening," the 53-year-old recounted. "But I knew that it was a secret. It was not something I should tell my mother because there was something threatening about the way he spoke, it frightened me."

The perpetrator gained access to Misra by babysitting her and her siblings while the parents were out. "He had it all planned, I think," she told DW.

Misra said she put the dots together years later after interviewing a counselor dealing with child sexual abuse. That's was when she realized what child abuse exactly was. Later on, Misra underwent psychological therapy for five years.

Today, Misra, the mother of three grown-up daughters, campaigns against the child sex abuse and works as a volunteer at the Recovering and Healing from Incest (RAHI) Foundation in New Delhi.

No government support

Experts say that social stigma in Indian society prevents people from coming out in the open and talking about abuse. Dummett believes the reason people would rather keep it under wraps is because they are worried about their image; revealing that a girl has been raped can affect the chances of her getting married.

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International rights organizations demand proper mechanisms to safeguard child rights

Activists also say that the victims who dare to report abuse are not treated well by the authorities. In May 2012, the Indian parliament passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences legislation which put forth stringent punishments for child abusers. It also proposed the establishment of special courts to hear child abuse cases because of the sensitivity of the issue. But the lack of resources and trained staff has so far impeded the implementation of the legislation.

"We have spoken to children who have been raped and who have gone to the police and found that the police have not believed them and have even insulted them," Dummett explained. "According to the law, every police station in India must have a policeman who is trained in handling children's cases. But if you go to police stations, you will find none."

According to the HRW report, a poor monitoring system means that abuse even takes place in state-run orphanages and child-care centers across the country. It calls on the government to implement protection mechanisms and reform the judicial system to ensure that child abuse cases are reported and tried.

DW.DE