Rates of Sexual Abuse of India’s Children Shockingly High

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Rates of Sexual Abuse of India’s Children Shockingly High

Deepali Gaur Singh

With over 35 million homeless children in India, and shelters for only 36,000 of them, children's lives can be precariously balanced and sexual abuse is widespread. But even those living at home are not always safe.

The Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire is one of several movies based on the day-to-day struggle for survival of abandoned children and young adults living on the streets of a bustling, uncaring metropolis. At a particularly disturbing portion of the film, the two male child protagonists manage to jump onto a train escaping the chasing mafia and leave behind the female protagonist Latika. One simple exchange at the juncture sums up what her life is going to be henceforth.

Sex trafficking is a far more lucrative industry than begging for girls, which is what will "save" Latika from being blinded, the film suggests. Despite a few films, some books, more studies and innumerable news reports on the controversial and shrouded issue of incest and child abuse, it is only the devastating statistics that tell the true horror of what children in India face on a daily basis. With sex trafficking being a profitable business, sexual abuse in the country is as rampant among boys as it is among girls.

With over 35 million homeless children, and shelters, for only 36,000 of these children, life can be precariously balanced. In Delhi alone, nearly half a million children live on the streets. And against the background of these statistics, the equally disturbing rape cases by teachers at a welfare home in northern India over several months just expose the weaknesses in the system, and the critical need for stronger measures protecting children.

Cases like that of Josef Fritzl in Austria generate shock and horror even as they shatter myths of the home as a safe and secure environment for children.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Recent reports of "The Josef Fritzl of India" were enough to shake audiences across the country when the media exposed the story of a father raping his 12 year old daughter for nine years hit every news channel.

Black magic and greed propelled the horrendous exploitation of his own daughter not just by the tantric (black magic practitioner) father, but in complicity with the mother in the superstitious hope of it bringing them huge wealth. Needless to say that the girl’s nine year long silence created enough space to question her "morals" even as short-lived rumors of her alleged illicit relationship with the tantric, which the parents apparently denied, did a few rounds. One not insignificant part of the story appears to be that only when her younger sister was being made to endure the same ordeal did she expose her parents. But was she truly the Josef Fritzl of India or a media-created headline who happened to be located in the financial capital of the country? How else can one explain the statistics of more than 53 percent of Indian children facing one or more forms of sexual abuse, of which 50 percent is perpetrated by people they know?

Most cases of sexually abused children go unreported, and there is no clear law on the subject except the Goa Children’s Act, which clearly states that child sexual abuse is a widespread problem in India. The enormity of the statistics and the diversity of the incidents disband several myths; that it is a cultural, social or class-specific issue, that not only girls are victimized and that even the safe environments of the home are  always safe. What complicates the situation further is the issue of missing children, which again in the face of more serious crimes. A grossly understaffed and overstretched police force are reduced to mere statistics for an annual crime record. It is believed that only 10 percent of the missing cases are registered with police. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) every year 7,058 children are reported missing in the national capital region of Delhi accounting for 6.7 percent of the country’s missing children, and earning it the dubious distinction of coming second only to the eastern city of Kolkata. A majority of these children are girls from marginalized communities between 12-19 years of age. With only a small percentage of these missing children recovered every year, it indicates the human trafficking nexus located around the sex and organ trade.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Child, 1989 was ratified by India in 1992.  The Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry has been asked by the Home Ministry to draft a separate law for Indian children to protect their rights along the lines of the Domestic Violence Act for women. Apart from physical abuse, checking sexual abuse and assault of children, as mentioned under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is also an integral part of the proposed law. The more defined the law incorporates every kind of contact with a child with sexual intent as punishable.

Recently, there have been calls from various quarters asking political parties to make child rights an integral part of their election manifestoes. Some of the demands included amendments in the Indian Constitution to specifically recognize child rights, and a review of the National Policy for Children to cover a plethora of issues like the amendment of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act by redefining trafficking to include trafficking for child labour, organ transplantation, child pornography, pedophilia, child sexual abuse and even religion-sanctioned practices, it paves the way for an integrated Child Protection Act.