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Child Sexual Abuse Is India’s Time Bomb – But Can We Diffuse It?

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By Ravi Sahay:

On Sunday morning, May 13, 2012, India’s popular star Aamir Khan during the second episode of his TV show, “Satyameya Jayate” which means “Truth Alone Wins”, exposed successfully the best or worst kept secret against children in India – child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse includes sexual assault, making the child fondle another’s private parts, making the child exhibit his private body parts, exhibiting private body parts to the child, photographing a child in the nude, sexual advances, forcible kissing and forcing the child to view pornographic material.

Interestingly, three days before the airing of this TV show, the Indian Rajya Sabha passed the pending bill – “Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill 2011”. This is a very positive step and Aamir Khan deserves accolades for educating the Indian public and for expediting the passage of this law. Now, India has a law to deter violence against innocent children.

However, we still need to understand the serious impact of this despicable and serious crime against our innocent children (both boys and girls). These victims carry these scars all their lives. Most Indians are still in denial that this problem exists.

The popular movie, “Monsoon Wedding (2001)” released by Canadian producer/director, Mira Nair, depicts this crime in a middle/upper class family of India. The government report also sees it as a broad problem across all sections of Indian society. RAHI NGO states that 75% of middle/upper class women have been abused and 53% of all Indian children are victims of sexual abuse according to the government report (2007).

Why is it a societal time bomb for India?

Breaking the silence is the first step in the recovery process. This crime has been going on for decades if not centuries. This evil of child sexual abuse has already wounded many families and the psychological and social impact of this scar on grown-ups is quite alarming. In many cases, professional help of doctors, psychologists and social workers is needed to diffuse and heal this festering wound.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). claims, “While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect can have consequences for children, families, and society that last lifetimes, if not generations. The impact of child abuse and neglect is often discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences. In reality, however, it is impossible to separate them completely. Physical consequences, such as damage to a child’s growing brain, can have psychological implications such as cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. Psychological problems often manifest as high-risk behaviors. Depression and anxiety, for example, may make a person more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, or overeat. High-risk behaviors, in turn, can lead to long-term physical health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, and obesity.

Judith Herman a psychiatrist, researcher, teacher, and author who has focused on the understanding and treatment of incest and traumatic stress. wrote in her book,“Trauma and Recovery (1997)” that child sexual abuse can alter personalities as grown-ups and she coined the term, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) to describe this syndrome. The symptoms include, alteration in relations to others, for example, isolation or withdrawal, disruption of intimate relationships, fear of intimacy, repeated search for a rescuer, persistent distrust, repeated failures of self protection and more. These problems can disrupt a family for a lifetime or even for generations.

The recovery journey of a sexually traumatized person is a hero’s or heroine’s journey as they move from a victim to a survivor and ultimately a thriver. The recovery or healing process is not easy and it may take years, or even decades.

Now, our Indian society needs to take responsibility for this crime and establish proper restitution first so that the adult victims can safely begin the recovery process of their “damaged selves” – through remembering and mourning first and then ultimately through forgiveness. Though this journey is self-initiated most of the time by the survivors, we would need many kindred souls to become therapists and mentors for these innocent victims. This is a major capacity building task for the nation which is essential for diffusing this societal time bomb.

What can we do to prevent it?

We need to spread information and increase awareness regarding this topic urgently. We need to educate our pre-school, elementary and middle school children about “healthy touch” and “bad touch.” Dr Rajat Mitra and Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, MD (Psychiatry) have demonstrated on TV with Aamir Khan various ways to educate children and their parents on this topic , As suggested by them, we owe it to our future generations as a reminder at least every six months.

Our government, NGOs, schools, parents and individuals need to educate their children, adults and senior citizens about the grave criminal nature of this crime and why it must stop so that our future generations can grow as healthy persons. It is very good news that a few NGOs in India, for example, RAHI, ARPAN, TULIR,Childline India Foundation (CIF), are becoming active in educating the Indian public about child sexual abuse. Pinki Virani gives an insightful analysis of this topic in her book, Bitter Chocolate (2001) (read book review here) and raises the issue of shame, guilt and national honor.

Like actor Aamir Khan and author Pinki Virani, more Indian movie producers/directors, TV soap opera writers, newspapers and magazines need to shed light on this crime against children and its after-effects on grown-ups. They also need to educate the indian public about the difficult recovery process.

In closing, let us offer prayers for the protection of our children and for the well-being of all.

You must be to comment.
  1. Margie McKinnon

    Ravi Sahay has written an incredibly impressive article outlining the, good, the bad and the ugly. This worldwide epidemic needs to come to the fore. Ravi Sahay is leading India in that and thank God!

  2. Eithan

    Yes I agree with that this crime has been going on
    for decades if not centuries. This evil of child sexual abuse has already
    wounded many families and the psychological and social impact of this scar on
    grown-ups is quite alarming. In many cases, professional help of doctors,
    psychologists and social workers is needed to diffuse and heal this festering wound.
    I think Child Abuse in India is critical problem but Indian govt. and many NGO
    working for that. Cry Org.is also one of them.
     

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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