November 19th is The Prevention of Child Abuse day. On that day in Auroville, a newly-formed group informed the community about an issue that is often ignored in India , that of child abuse.
“It's shocking. I wasn't aware that child abuse is such a widespread problem in India and that such a large number of children are affected.” This was one of the comments from a group of 12 Tamil Aurovilians who attended a two-day workshop on child abuse in August this year. The workshop was given by the Chennai-based organisation Tulir – Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.
“We didn't know that abuse occurs in all social and economic classes of society. It was awful to hear that children – both girls and boys – are most often abused by people they trust, such as family relatives, neighbours and teachers!” said another of the group members. “For here in India nobody ever talks about sex, let alone sexual abuse.”
The group was taught about the inappropriate behaviour patterns that can be indicative of abusers. They learned how to recognise the physical and psychological signs of abused children. Through case studies they were shown some common long-term effects of child abuse. Most importantly, they were taught how to keep children safe from offenders. And finally, the group was stimulated to take an active role in preventing child sexual abuse in the Auroville area as a whole.
Back in Auroville, a series of meetings followed with a large group of interested people. The group decided to widen their focus to child protection in general. The first and most challenging task would be education and awareness-raising on issues relating to children's rights and to the many forms of child abuse. A second task is establishing mechanisms for reporting and responding to cases of abuse. Lastly, in cooperation with local authorities and other interested parties, a child protection policy will be developed. It will outline common principles, Auroville's values and beliefs, and will describe the steps to be taken to protect children. Also a medical and legal counselling network will need to be set up, and educational materials designed and distributed.
Members of the newly-formed Child Protection Services team have outlined an initial programme. They will organize workshops for teachers, parents and children conducted by professionals. Education and awareness-building will also be pursued through distributing materials that are age- and culturally-appropriate.
“It is an enormous challenge,” said one of the team members, “particularly in a society where child abuse is still a taboo topic and children's rights are hardly recognized. Moreover, support mechanisms are not in place and there is not much help from the Indian laws as they do not provide enough protection for children who are victims of abuse.”
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Photo: A poster distributed by Tulir
Child sexual abuse in India
Extensive data on the prevalence of child sexual abuse (CSA) in India is not available. However, some major research studies done in this field present the following results:
In a survey of 350 schoolgirls in New Delhi by Sakshi (an NGO) in1997, 63% had experienced sexual abuse by family members; and
25% of the girls had been severely abused.
Another 1997 study on middle and upper class women from Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Goa by RAHI revealed that 76% of respondents had been sexually abused as children, with 71% having been abused either by relatives or by someone they knew and trusted. Samvada's 1996 study on students in Bangalore stated that 47% of the respondents had been sexually abused with 62% having been raped once and 38% having been repeatedly violated. Tulir's study in 2006, conducted among 2211 school going children in Chennai, indicates a CSA prevalence rate of 42%. Children of all socio-economic groups were found to be equally vulnerable. While 48% of boys reported having been abused, the prevalence rate among girls was 39%; 15% of boys and girls had been severely abused.
From the Tulir website: http://www.tulircphcsa.org/faq.htm
What is child abuse?
Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.