When a child isn’t safe at home

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Illustration: Anand Naorem
Illustration: Anand Naorem

What would call a father who rapes his own daughter? A monster? A pervert? A despicable human being? If news reports are anything to go by, the cases of such Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) committed by a parent are on the rise. Including this snippet that was flashed recently:

Gurgaon: A 45-year-old man has been accused of raping his own daughter over the past three years.… Gurgaon Joint Commissioner of Police Maheshwar Dayal has said that the father used to take her daughter to places like Madhya Pradesh, Haridwar and rape her…the 45-year-old ensured none of the family members accompanied them.

The newspapers are filled with these reports almost everyday, so common are these that they’ve ceased to shock us anymore. They’ve become blind spots in our reading, we often skip them and move over to other news. Reports like this:

Thane: A 13-year-old girl from Kausa was allegedly raped by her father at their residence, the Mumbra police said.

Ahmedabad: In a small village in east Gujarat, a father of four daughters allegedly repeatedly raped his eldest daughter for three years after which he targeted the younger one, is 14 years old.

For the children who have grown up being sexually assaulted by their parent and guardian, the trauma is something that will last a lifetime. For the past three years, a group of bloggers and social media enthusiasts, including me, have been running a volunteer driven online awareness initiative called the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month through the month of April.  Through the month, we have survivors of CSA send in their accounts, often anonymous, we have legal experts, counselors, therapists who work with abused children and survivors, and CSA survivors talk about the various aspects of CSA on our blog, on Facebook and on Twitter. While the statistics surrounding CSA are frightening enough, what is even more frightening is the fact that no longer are children safe even with their own parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins or siblings. It rids us of the misconception that a child is safe at home, that in fact, if anything, a child is most vulnerable to being abused at home.

CSA in the home, committed by a parent or an immediate relative is a real and tangible scourge in our country. A report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development entitled ‘Study on Child Abuse India 2007’ revealed that more than 53% of children in India have probably been sexually abused and many have never disclosed the abuse. While sexual abuse happens in a majority of the cases with the father abusing a daughter, there are documented cases of mothers sexually abusing their daughters as well as sons, including infants. While most child sexual abuse is committed by men; women reportedly commit approximately 14 percent of offenses reported against boys and 6 percent of offenses reported against girls. Incest is prevalent across SECs, geographies, and across the rural urban divide. Boys are victims of CSA as are girls, CSA against boys is not reported, or spoken about. Boys are also supervised more laxly than girls are, leading to a greater possibility of them being abused.

A report from RAHI, an NGO working with CSA victims titled “Voices from the Silent Zone,” suggests that nearly three-quarters of upper and middle class Indian women are abused by a family member – more than often an uncle, a cousin or an elder brother.

Here are some terrifying statistics on incest from RAHI

  • 64% of incest survivors were abused between the age of 10-18 years
  • 32% of incest survivors were abused between the age of 2-10 years
  • 87% of the incest survivors were abused repeatedly
  • 19% of the abused were currently living with at least one of the abusers

Family facts of the abused:

68% were living in nuclear families
16% in semi-joint families (nuclear and grandparents)
15% in joint families (extended)

Mothers of the abused: Despite common perception that the mothers of abused children were working, the report said that of those surveyed who said they were abused, 60% of mothers were housewives and 40% were employed.

A survey by Sakshi in 1997, which spoke to over 350 school girls found that 63 per cent had experienced CSA at the hands of family members. Another 1997 study on middle and upper class women from Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Goa by RAHI revealed that 76% of respondents had been sexually abused as children, with 71% been abused either by relatives or by someone they knew and trusted.

CSA is especially exacerbated in the Indian context because of the patriarchal family system, where the women are expected to play a subservient role to the men folk of the family, and where they have neither the financial independence or the empowerment to protest or unveil the abuse happening under their eyes, even if they know about it. The overwhelming concept of family honour, and the need to put family honour before the child’s welfare, results in most CSA cases being swept under the carpet or ignored, with the victim very often in the position of having to continue to live in the same house as the abuser, with the risk of the abuse continuing repeatedly.

Reports in the newspapers talk about how incest, (CSA or otherwise) is an accepted practice in rural India. To quote this report, “Social mores in villages are different. People here are very conservative and there is no scope for interaction between men and women and boys and girls outside their homes. So, they often end up having relationships with members of their accessible, extended family,” says Balbir Singh, a social activist in Fatehabad district. Experts believe that such relationships have survived behind closed doors for many years….The youth, interestingly, believe that incest is a traditional practice and not a new reality. “Yeh to hame virasat mein mili hai (incest is a part of our tradition),” says Naresh Kumar, a villager in Rohera in Kaithal district.

We need to talk about CSA at home. We need to first start acknowledging that it exists and that it is increasing. To begin with, CSA is rarely reportedly, perpetrators get away with it more often than not. In a society where boys and girls are not allowed to mingle socially, repression results in perpetrators selecting victims they can target easily, and who are easily accessible- children. From their own homes. We need to start talking to our kids about basics like good touch, bad touch in much the same matter of fact manner that we talk to them about traffic safety rules. Unless we stop brushing it under the carpet and putting family honour before the welfare of the child, unless we start gathering the courage to report any CSA we come across and confront abusers, even in our own homes, CSA in homes will continue, increase and generations of children will grow up scarred.

(This article was first published in Tehelka Blog on 5 April, 2013)

5 COMMENTS

  1. Shocked to see that 53% of children in India are abused by family members or extended family members. Are the facts correct? If this is true, then tackling it is the Ist step against rapists in India.

  2. In 18th century England, even pick-pocketing was punishable by hanging. Public hangings of pickpockets often served as an excellent opportunity for other pickpockets to pursue their ‘trade’ in the throngs, thus at best proving pointless the alleged deterrent effect.

    In order to find out what causes criminal behaviour, one must look at the complex psychological and social circumstances of human existence. To think this issue could be solved with the death penalty would be naïv

  3. There is also a need to find out what makes parents do this! This is also very important. Remember, humans are complex evolving creatures. Finding the root cause and treating it is crucial to this cause.

  4. Looks like the author are googled something quickly and produced the report. All I see is a couple of cyclical references/sources.

    In the article itself the author is very vague with numbers.

    “CSA is especially exacerbated in the Indian context because of the patriarchal family system …” how to you know that?
    If that were true wouldn’t rural India have more problem?
    But rapes are lesser in rural India than urban India accounting for under reporting. Wouldn’t it be a contradictory thing?

    The issue has not been presented with the seriousness it deserves.

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