Children of a lesser God

Anumeha Verma
Published: December 2014

The ugly truth of child sexual abuse has once again reared its head and set the nation talking but who are we talking about?

childrenThe show of solidarity surpassed anything that Bangalore has witnessed in the recent past,” stated a report in one of the leading newspapers of the IT City. According to the said report this solidarity was the result of the alleged rape of a six year old on the premises of one of the reputed schools in the city. Parents have made their outrage loud and clear by protesting outside the school and demanding accountability from the management. There are calls for action to be taken against the perpetrators of the crime and media is showering all its attention on the furore. OB vans are parked across the school. Busy reporters buzz around collecting bytes and quotations, trying to gather information which their competitors do not have. The incident has even featured in the British Media. One cannot help but feel sympathetic towards the six year old who underwent this traumatic incident. The uproar amongst common people and the Fourth Estate is something akin to the Nirbhaya case which took place in Delhi. While the Delhi incident brought crime against women to the mainstream debate, the incident in Bangalore has made people discuss something on which there was an uncomfortable silence till now- child sexual abuse. The complicit silence of victim’s families, authorities and existence of just a handful of NGOs working with the issue in a country where 48000 cases of abuse took place just between 2001 and 2011 is confounding. Child sexual abuse has been considered taboo due to deep rooted social stigmas attached to it. Often the culprits happen to be family members, people close to the family resulting in the conspiracy of silence. At times perpetrators are in the position of authority outside the family. Even in these cases the issue goes unreported in the name of saving the family honour. Open debates on the risk that children are at constantly is a welcome reprieve but something seems to be conspicuously absent from the debate.

Just two months back there was another horrifying incident near Hosur in Tamil Nadu. A three year old girl was allegedly raped. It was yet another case of child sexual abuse but, the similarities in the two cases ends here. Hosur was not a metropolis. The mother of victim was a construction worker hailing from Bommidi village in Dharmapuri. There were no loud protests in Hosur or the neighbouring city Bangalore, OB vans and reporters from the Print Media remained busy elsewhere after allotting a few columns in the newspapers and a token coverage by the broadcast media was all the incident got. The genteel urban crowds expressed their horror for a few minutes in the comforts of their homes and then pushed the incident to deep recesses of their minds, never to see the light of the day again.

While the incident in Bangalore has acted as a wake-up call finally and has forced the people to acknowledge seriousness of child sexual abuse, sadly the concern and solidarity were strangely lukewarm in case of the construction worker’s daughter. An arrest was made in the case and that is all the information available about the crime against the innocent child who died in the process.

Geographically, the attention on such cases by far surpasses the thoughtfulness showered on smaller cities, villages and districts. Rape of the Delhi student, the grotesque Nithari killings and now the incident in Bangalore are all incidents that have happened in high profile cities. Sociologically, a sustained campaign, both by the media and the common people is restricted to the incidents happening to the affluent class to a great extent. Alternatively, cases where the perpetrators enjoy a high profile status like the case of Ruchika Girhotra become the talk of the town,

children-qMore than 7200 children undergo some form of sexual abuse every year and these are just the reported cases (source: UN) while a study conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development, UNICEF and Delhi based NGO Prayas revealed that 53 per cent children in India are abused. Out of these, children who live on streets, start working at an early age and are in institutional care stand the greatest degree of risk of sexual abuse. Two years ago, one of the leading newspapers of India had reported eight cases of sexual abuse in different facilities in just six months. Yet, these are the cases which are least documented, barely talked about and hardly ever remembered after a day or two of the incident.
These children languishing in want, sometimes emotional, at times financial do not have affluent parents to take up the cudgels for them, they do not study in high profile schools which make news. Their parents, in case they are not orphans, usually belong to that strata of society which leads a hand to mouth existence. When they finally gather enough courage to go and report an incident, the authorities are often not in their favour. A report by Human Rights Watch quoted the experience of 16 year old Neha when she went to the police station after being raped. “The man on duty told me to shut my mouth and go back home,” said the girl. She belonged to a low caste rural family and probably her word held no weightage for the authorities. Such cases are not uncommon and insensitive treatment at the hands of authorities often deter many parents and at times the victims themselves from registering a case against the offenders.

Their trauma does not cease with the callous treatment by those who should be actively involved in protecting them from further harassment. Medical attention is another area where they face the damages. It is difficult for those from the less privileged section of the society to afford quality medical care. Reports by various human rights groups point out that in a bid to gather evidence most doctors forget that children should be treated and handled in a way that does not traumatize them any further. But they extrapolate the same methods to these children as they would to any other patient coming to them.

Combine the insensitivity on part of the authorities, certain sections of the medical fraternity and a near absence of sexually abused children belonging to the underprivileged section of the society from the public discourse and it creates insurmountable odds for these victims to recover from their torturous experiences.
Amidst the raging debates on background checks and safety of students in posh schools, the children languishing in institutional homes and those belonging to parents who do not have either affluence or influence have receded in the background. Is it neglect or a systemic failure? When will our dialogues include those abused children who belong to the economically weaker sections of society?

 - Anumeha Verma is at present working with Jain University and believes that strategic communication plays a major role in solving development issues.