According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 73 million boys and 150 million girls under 18 years had experienced various forms of sexual violence in 2002. This is the universal havoc having grave life-long outcomes.
The issue of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is taboo since a majority of the people are unforthcoming of this issue. This silence is due to the fear of indignity, denial from the community, social stigma, inability to trust government bodies and a gap in communication between parents and children about this issue.
With the above background, Gender and Impact Studies (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi Post News and GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, organised a joint talk on Towards Freedom from Child Sexual Abuse by Ms Pooja Taparia, Founder and Chief Executive of ARPAN, where she reflected the prevailing problem of child sexual abuse and ways of obtaining freedom from it.
According to Violence in Childhood Global Report 2017, approximately 1.7 billion children have experienced some form of interpersonal violence in a year. The WHO estimates that 20% of girls and 5–10% of boys are victims of sexual abuse. Ms Taparia pointed out that a recent systematic review in 2018 of 55 studies from 24 countries concluded that rates of child sexual abuse ranged from 8–31% for females and from 3–17% for males.
Stating India’s reality in child sexual abuse, according to a national study by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, more than half reported experience of sexual abuse among 12,447 children inter-viewed. Of these, 52% were boys and 47% were girls. According to the National Crime Record Bureau 2019, 35.3% of the criminal cases against children were of child sexual abuse.
“What makes child sexual abuse worse is that it has profound consequences on children’s lives which continue as adults and it continues to impact them throughout their lives,” Ms Taparia said.
Underlining various profound negative consequences of child sexual abuse, she stated that it interfered with the children’s growth and development, further leading to behavioural, social and mental health outcomes, poor adjustments, lack of trust, and insecure relations with adults/parents. Such behavioural impacts can range from severe to low depending on several other factors like the severity of abuse, age of the child, and resilience in coping with it.
Maladaptive health behaviours, neuro-biological systems damage, relational challenges including challenges in sexual relationships, violent behaviours and increased risk of perpetration of child sexual abuse as adults, physical disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, pregnancy, STIs and suicidal behaviours are some other major profound negative consequences of child sexual abuse.
The normative structure has built a conspiracy of silence. Patriarchy, gender stereotypes, family construct and the associated stigmas with violence adds to the issue. She also shares that the emotional communication gap between a child and an adult restricts a child to talk.
While mentioning abuse in the COVID-19 situation, she highlights that CHILDLINE, an emergency helpline, saw a 19% drop in cases of sexual abuse as compared to the previous year’s record. However, in 2020, online child sexual abuse has increased during the pandemic as there was a three times increase in child pornography during the lockdown. She emphasises digital space as an enabler to accelerate and reach out to educate children and adults on the issue of child sexual abuse.
As a step to prevent CSA, Ms Taparia elaborated ARPANs School-Based Model, involving various steps of counselling process (assessment, safety planning, preparing the child, parent caregiver interaction, impact work, follow up, closure) helping children’s understanding of “what I am”, “what I can” and “what I have”, supporting caregivers to be aware, communicate and effectively respond to children. The model helped children self-evaluate feelings of guilt, anger, shame and increased confidence, alertness, and self-esteem.
Elucidating further, she shared that a kind of model is needed with a preventative lens that encourages deterrence efforts and intervention and treatment as it ensures the safety of an entire population. It should have the potential to diminish the number of sexual offenders in the general population and diminish the sexual victimisation in the community. It should work with the objectives of risk reduction, primary, secondary and tertiary-level prevention.
She talks about her Personal Safety Education Model, which empowers children and adults with adequate knowledge and skills to prevent child sexual abuse.
“Any act by a powerful person for their sexual gratification including all kinds of contact and non-contact abuse is sexual abuse,” Ms Taparia said.
She insisted that adult awareness and parenting tips for keeping children safe is a necessity. The awareness programs should focus on identifying child sexual abuse, its impact, laws and handling disclosures and the ways of prevention and response. She also emphasises the importance of imparting personal safety to children for enhancing their inner strength and required knowledge and skills to identify, refuse and report child sexual abuse.
She talks about the POCSO Act, 2012, (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences), an act designed to protect children under 18 years from sexual abuse. It is a comprehensive law to provide for the protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography while safeguarding the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.
“To make a world free from child sexual abuse, be aware, make others aware, be vigilant, communicate with your children regularly and seek professional help if a child discloses an experience of abuse.”
While highlighting the lack of training among medical practitioners regarding child sexual abuse, Ms Taparia emphasises the need for training and capacity building for the effectiveness of the POCSO Act at the ground level. She points at the need for speedy trials regarding CSA cases to make people and medical practitioners more cooperative towards testifying in courts.
She also focusses on a need for a more holistic approach at the ground level in which child and caregivers are empowered at the societal level, along with measures at all level (police, the judicial system and government policies) to enhance its effective implementation at ground, training and capacity building of professionals for preventing and protecting child sexual abuse.
In conclusion, Ms Taparia said that the fight against child sexual abuse needs to be continued and consistent. More determined and perseverant work is required to be done by all of us to help and protect millions of children from sexual abuse.
By Dr Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta and Nishi Verma
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.