Breaking the silence on child sexual abuse in India

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 5 August 2014

Sexual abuse and violence runs rampant through India. A 2007 government study — the first and largest of its kind in the country — covered 13 states and 12,447 children, and put numbers to an epidemic that had quietly been silenced for too long. The results validated findings from other NGOs over the last couple of decades: 40 to 50 percent of children in India have suffered from sexual abuse. The issue cuts across caste and class, even though it is often thought of as a problem of the poor. Further, a study by a Chennai-based NGO in 2006 showed that boys and girls are equally impacted: 39 percent of girls and 48 percent of boys faced sexual abuse.

Recent news headlines reveal the abuse is not just from family members or neighbors but also in the supposed safety of school. On July 2 in Bangalore, a six-year-old girl was raped at a private school in the city. Although victims of child sexual abuse (CSA) often shy away from reporting their abuse due to stigmas, shame, and fear, one organization in Mumbai, Arpan, is working to empower children and their caregiving network — teachers, parents, and local NGOs — with the knowledge and skills to prevent CSA and provide support to those have been victimized.

Founder Pooja Taparia started Arpan after an outing to the theater. The play was "Bitter Chocolate," and depicted the devastating effect of child sexual abuse in her country. Taparia returned home after the play and researched the issue further. She was startled by the numbers she read, but was more shocked by the lack of interventions working to combat the issue. In 2006, she launched Arpan and has now reached over 66,000 children and adults directly and over 200,000 individuals indirectly. Arpan is now the largest organization in the world working on the issue of CSA.

A well-known expert in the field of CSA, Dr. Lois Engelbrecht, who is based in the Philippines, says that Arpan's model is unique. "Especially noteworthy is the large scale of prevention work by professionals who teach thousands of children personal safety skills every year using research-based materials and methodology. I know no other NGO in the world where the staff follow such a holistic model of prevention and healing with children in schools."

While Arpan's work has reached thousands, the extent of the issue has called for greater legal protection for children. Following the Delhi rape case in 2012, the government has set up new committees to address sexual abuse, especially attentive to the needs of children, but experts warn that implementation, including training for police, child welfare workers, and NGOs, is key.

"The Indian government at the highest levels recognizes that much more needs to be done to protect the country's children from sexual abuse, but it has yet to take significant steps to address problems of discrimination, bias, and sheer insensitivity," says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "As many officials have pointed out to us, creating laws or providing training is an important step, but this has to be followed up with concrete action. Just as important, a change in mindset is needed where both abusers and those who protect them by neglecting their duty are held accountable."

Photo: lecercle

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