TW: This article addresses Child Sexual Abuse (CSA).
When you imagine children and holidays, visuals of fun, laughter and games might instantly pop up in your head. However, the world’s current reality is far from joy and much closer to despair.
While the world deals with the coronavirus and the deluge of suffering it has brought, people seem to be overlooking the secondary victims that this pandemic has produced. News reports from across the globe are corroborating the surge in cases of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) ever since strict lockdown measures, amongst other preventive restrictions, have been put in place. The current numbers tell a grim story, and they are only estimated to increase.
According to an analysis by the UNICEF, 99% of children worldwide live in one of the 186 countries with some form of movement restrictions in place due to COVID-19. This situation, where children are homebound, leaves many of them in prolonged proximity with their actual or potential abusers, who are more often than not, close family members of the child. At the same time, it gives the predators an unbridled opportunity to abuse. Ever since the lockdown was announced on March 24, the Child Helpline Number in India (1098) received over 92,000 calls in 11 days—an indication of how the lockdown has become a period of captivity and fear for thousands of children.
These statistics, though somber, are not presenting for the first time. Even during the massive spread of Ebola across West Africa, the main focus of the government and health workers remained on mitigating the virus and the deaths it caused. Later on, retrospection unveiled the grave collateral damage. When football games were cancelled and bars were closed down, men spent days and months quartered inside their homes; quarantines, curfews, and school closures had significantly heightened the cases of rape and sexual abuse for women, girls and children, and even teenage pregnancies. Even outside the home, predators exploited the situation by forcing impoverished children to trade sex for food.
The shutdown of schools and other programs or services means lesser opportunities to report their abuser, and the routine mechanisms of detection and official response are also hampered. This leaves the offender in a dangerously powerful position relative to the victim.
What makes matters worse when it comes to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) cases is the availability of multiple channels to carry out the crime. Now that it is difficult for offenders to operate in the real physical world, they have started to migrate online. The virtual world grants offenders the opportunity to come in contact with not only many vulnerable targets, but also to network with like-minded others who are present on the dark-web to upload, download, or browse through Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). Investigators from the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) found that three clicks are all that is needed to access CSA content on the open web.
In a global compilation of reports of CSAM found online by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), India stood right on top of the list, with 11.7% of the total reports or 19.87 lakh reports, and this was before the COVID-19 lockdown measures were implemented. Now that people, including children, are at home and spending more and more time online, there is increased concern about the protection of minors from online sexual exploitation. Europol’s recent report, Pandemic Profiteering, also ascertains it and highlights that instances of online child grooming, sexting, and live streaming will be on the rise.
No matter what the medium of abuse is, it is clear that the coronavirus is not only posing a health risk to all sections of the population but that it is accentuating the problem for children and minors. CSA can have detrimental consequences for the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of children, and its negative effects may last well into adulthood, and hence it should be curbed. While authorities and global agencies are pitching in to come up with mechanisms that would reduce the incidence of real-world or virtual sexual exploitation of children in these trying times, each one of us at an individual level can also contribute.
How do we do that, you ask?
All you have to do is educate yourselves about CSA and then talk to others about it- be it your siblings, parents, grandparents, friends, or anyone else you know. This knowledge is then passed on to children around each one of them so that the young ones can be made aware and empowered to fight the ills of CSA.
Tell them the difference between safe and unsafe touch.
Tell them that in case a child is being abused, he/she should take the following steps-
Tell them that experiencing abuse is never the victim’s fault and that the shame is not theirs to carry.
Tell them the Child Helpline Number- 1098.
Complete this challenge, draw a red balloon on the palm of your hand and the hand of the person you educated, and share your pictures on Instagram and Facebook using #passtheballoonchallenge. Do not forget to tag Amoli Trust. Urge your friends and family to participate in it too so that the red balloon of courage and hope does not stop flying.
In times of a humanitarian crisis like this when existing vulnerabilities are compounding and new concerns are emerging, the more responsibility and care we take of each other, the stronger and safer we will emerge out of it. While we wear masks, social distance, and regularly wash our hands to combat the disease, let us not forget to look out for our children and protect their innocence— because Corona is not the only evil we have to fight!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.