Omerta is an Italian expression referring to a rule or code of silence. It prohibits speaking or divulging information about certain activities, especially family secrets and activities of a criminal organisation.
Rakshit is a 10-year old boy living in New Delhi. He used to be very bright and cheerful. Today, he is in immense pain. He is scared of his own shadow. He has no idea how to tell his parents and moreover, he has no idea what to tell them. His life is in shreds and the silence of his sobs is deafening.
Children are a very important part of our society. They are not only our future, but they also bring in new questions, thoughts and answers. Everyone loves children. For the parents, their children mean the world to them and all they want are their child’s safety and happiness, in that order. But are our children actually safe??
It is very difficult to talk about and acknowledge the sexual abuse our children of all ages including infants suffer every single day. Sexual abuse robs children of their childhood and creates a loss of trust, feeling of guilt and self-abusive behaviour in them. It not only leads to physical injuries, but also to anti-social behaviour, depression, identity-crisis, trauma, suicidal urges, confusion, loss of self-esteem and other serious emotional problems. In case of female kids, another complication of pregnancy exists, which can be physically, mentally, socially and psychologically devastating. Kids abused in their childhood find it very difficult to adjust to intimate relationships later in their lives. The child is always confused and an unknown and indescribable fear lives inside him. The shame associated with those childhood horrors never passes into oblivion. Those dark secrets confined deep into his heart do not allow him any peace. The child struggles with words to describe the agony he goes through and knows no way to express his trauma. He does not know what is happening and why.
Some of you might be thinking that this problem is related with only a very small fraction of our society. You might be surprised to know that 53% of children in India face some form of child sexual abuse. Of these, only 6% cases are reported. Of all the children who face sexual abuse, 53% are boys. And these are the people who admitted to suffering this abuse! Can you imagine how many people were too guilt-ridden to even admit this? India holds the dubious distinction of being home to the world’s largest number of sexually abused children. According to UNICEF, child marriages represent perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls. According to CRY (Child Rights and You),
- 8945 children go missing in India every year.
- 5 lakh children are estimated to be forced into sex trade every year.
- Approximately 2 million child commercial sex workers aged 5-15 are active in the country. Similarly, around 3.3 million child sex workers are aged 15-18.
- Child pornography is the most lucrative illegal business in India. Child porn is also the most filmed and watched category of pornography in India.
- Children form 40% of total population of commercial sex workers.
- 71% of children engaged in prostitution are illiterate and 80% of child prostitutes are found in the 5 metros- Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore.
And it goes without saying that all of these figures are grossly understated. So, do you still think it is a minor problem, affecting only a minuscule portion of the population??
Over the years, some trends about the victims of child sexual abuse have emerged. Children who do not live with both parents as well as children living in homes marked by parental discord, divorce or domestic violence have a higher risk of being sexually abused. I believe that children living in joint families are more susceptible to the abuse as they are exposed to a lot of people in the families. In a nuclear family, the kid is generally very attached to his parents and hence finds it easier to report any such incident to them, without worrying about the others. But then, it is my personal opinion. “Child sexual abuse happens only in cities” is an outrageous myth. Studies prove that abuse takes place in rural areas also significantly. The recently-enacted Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act does not fill me with any new hope. Proving the cases of child sexual abuse is very difficult, as normally, the child is the only witness. At the same time, we have not been able to differentiate between child sexual abuse and rapes. The judiciary has failed miserably in drawing a distinction between the two. I also find the act ineffective because most of the cases of child sexual abuse take place inside the family. As many as 93% victims under the age of 18 knew the abuser. Clearly, the real battle is inside the family, which the act fails to address.
There are various inter-related reasons as to why child sexual abuse happens. Foremost is the biological factor of sexual drive. The perpetrator, sharing close family terms with the child finds it very easy to win the confidence of the parents and spend time with the child. Bullying nature, aggression, domineering behaviour etc are also cited as various other factors. A network of deprivations and vulnerabilities – poverty, age, gender, caste, lack of schools, lack of proper institutional care for children without functional families etc – creates situations where children are sexually exploited. The notion of considering children as vulnerable and hence, weak has also contributed to this predicament. A child sexual abuser can be anyone. Right from grandparents, parents, teachers, uncles & aunts, friends, tutor, sports coach, siblings, baby-sitters, domestic helps and neighbours to any stranger on the streets, anyone can be the perpetrator. So, let’s junk this belief that the offenders are only outsiders or only men. Women account for a significant number of child sexual abusers.
Child sexual abuse is a taboo in our society. We are unwilling to talk about this ongoing exploitation or concede it exists. It is considered a stigma. We think if we go public about this, the abused child, especially a girl will never get married. When the abuser is a part of the family, he/she is never confronted for the fear of disintegration of the family. We reason that it will lead to huge upheaval in the family and cause a lot of awkwardness and fights. We think it might create problems in our relationship with other members of the family. I maintain that the biggest reason behind our meek and mute surrender to this abuse is that we take this abuse in a sexual context. As everything to do with sex is a taboo in India, we simply choose not to talk about it. If we are not ready to talk about it, how can we expect our children to come forward and tell us about it??
So, what can be done by us to protect our children from this torture? I would like to divide my suggestions into the following 3 categories-
- Protect and observe – Protect your children by imparting him/her with proper sex education. It is vital that our children get this information from credible sources. We must do away with all the taboos related to sex and discuss them openly with our children, for their own sake. Observing the child for any signs of ongoing sexual abuse is a must. Difficulty in walking or sitting, bloody, torn or stained underclothes, bleeding, bruises, swelling, pain, itching or burning in genital area, frequent urinary or yeast infections are some of the physical signs. Shrinking away, feeling threatened by physical touch, exhibiting signs of depression, suicidal thoughts, aversion to a particular person, place or activity, self-harming activities, developing phobias, dip in academic performance, sudden or drastic change in habits, regressive behaviour such as thumb-sucking, running away from home or school, frequent nightmares, bed-wetting, excessive masturbation, aggression, indulging in substance abuse etc can be some of the many indicators of your child suffering from sexual abuse.
- Support – Talking about the issue, offering and assuring help and listening to your child is paramount. If a parent does not take his child’s problem seriously, imagine the frustration, anger and doubt the child feels. The pain and suffering felt by the child when his parents discard his problems are a lot more than the pain the child had suffered during the sexual abuse.
- Report – The parents staying mum is the biggest encouragement an abuser can get. Reporting the abuse not only helps in serving justice to the offender, it also lifts the morale of the child. In case of the abuser belonging to the family, it must be made clear to him that his actions are not tolerable. Even if legal action is not sought, social pressure must be created on him. Is “peace” in the family more important than the life of our child?? It’s high time we start thinking about our child first.
I also find something very disturbing in our traditions. We are asked to respect our elders under any circumstances. I believe this plays subconsciously on the child’s mind and he finds it too difficult to say “no” when the elder starts to abuse him. We should teach our kids to respect the behaviour of a person, not his age. A safer home is the least we can give our children. We cannot protect them from all the problems but we must not turn silent when our child faces this inhuman torture within the boundaries of our home. Is this the way we want to raise our next generation? Our decisions define us. Life is nothing but a result of the choices we make. Carl Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” By the way, what should I tell Rakshit and his parents?