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For Over 20 Million Indian Children, Sexual Abuse Is A Haunting Reality

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STC logoEditor’s Note: With #TheInvisibles, Youth Ki Awaaz and Save the Children India have joined hands to advocate for the rights of children in street situations in India. Share your stories of what you learned while interacting with street children, what authorities can do to ensure their rights are met, and how we can together fight child labour. Add a post today!

She is a vile little girl always looking for excuses to gain attention. Don’t trust her words madam, she is a liar.

This is what the father of a seven-year-old girl said when his daughter tried to tell him that she was being abused. She went quiet after hearing her father’s voice. However, my friends and I, who had been helping out in the neighbourhood slums for some time, decided to investigate the matter.

They were a family of four – parents and two daughters. Once the father left for work, a friend of his visited them frequently and played with the girls. Away from the prying of neighbours, he touched them in inappropriate places. But since the girls were unaware of what constituted sexual abuse, they did not talk to anyone about it.

It so happened that when I visited the house where her mother was employed as a domestic worker, on a Sunday morning, the little girl also tagged along. I was having a chat with her when she mentioned these ghastly incidents. Later, as we cajoled her, she mentioned that she felt ‘uncomfortable’, and in sheer innocence, narrated various incidents to us in the passing.

Luckily, the entire neighbourhood got involved, questioned the family and the accused, and discovered that the actions of this family friend who was so ‘nice and friendly’ were indeed suspicious. They convinced the parents to refrain from interacting with him, and eventually the family was shifted to a new locality and the accused was barred from meeting them.

Although the case has been brought to the police, investigations are still going on due to lack of evidence. It seems that the pleas of a seven-year old don’t suffice, and so many such incidents never come to light.

A report by the non-profit organisation, ‘Save The Children’, has found that 94.8% of such cases saw children, both on the vulnerable streets and those inside comfortable homes, being abused by someone they knew, and not strangers. It so happens that often the abusers are acquaintances or relatives whose public image is sometimes hard to question on the grounds of children’s complaints.

The Psychological Scars

A teenage girl, who had been repeatedly raped when she was 12 years old, opened up to me and shared her fear of being disregarded in the society because of her ‘shameful’ past. She confessed that the people around her make her feel like a criminal who has been branded for immoral deeds. Her plight came to the knowledge of her family only after she turned 16, when she was old enough to understand the gravity of the abuse meted out to her by her father’s co-workers.

But as she narrated her story, her shaking hands and silent sobs told me that she has not yet healed. Her mother shared that it took two years of rigorous counselling to inspire her daughter to join college for further studies. The fears have not left her completely and she still has to resort to antidepressant injections to cope up with dreadful memories.

Not Just Girls

These heart-wrenching accounts of sexual harassment that leave a child mentally and physically disturbed are not gender specific. A boy of 10 reported that the owner of the dhaba where he works, constantly abuses the child workers who shake with fear under his tight reign. Verbal insults and lashings are routine acts of the despotic rule here. Sometimes, these children also serve as satiating meals for sexual predators.

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2015 data, of the 8,800 child rape cases registered using The Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 25% of rapes of children were found to be committed by their employers and co-workers. But since these children have no home and virtually no family (as most of them are orphans or runaways), their cries often go unheard. The image of these children as ‘troublemakers’ also puts them at odds with the police and hence worsens their situation. At times, even the law enforcers turn abusers.

Smashing The Stigma

The sexual abuse of children living on our streets, is a grave social evil that remains untold due to the pressing effects of poverty, ignorance and prejudice. The handful of survivors who grow up to tell their tale reveal the darker side of childhood that is often overlooked.

These survivors remain marred for life and their experiences affect their mental health and hinder their growth. As more incidents of sexual abuse come to light, the Delhi police has launched a rigorous campaign to check child labour and sexual abuse in workplaces as well as orphanages.

With various organisations and departments realising the need to ensure a safe childhood for all, the fight against child abuse has taken its first steps. The power of individual efforts and self-realisation becomes evident from the story of Amod Kanth, a police officer turned activist and founder of the child protection NGO Prayas, who helps survivors of sexual abuse fight their perpetrators.

But, as members of the society, it is the responsibility of each one of us to shun the social stigma about sexual abuse, so that the survivors can come out to share their grief without the fear of being branded as outcasts.


Image Source : Lance Shields/Flickr

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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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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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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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