Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta and Nishi Verma

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 73 million boys and 150 million girls under 18 years had experienced various forms of sexual violence in 2002. This is the universal havoc having grave life-long outcomes. The issue of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is taboo since a majority of the people are unforthcoming of this issue. This silence is due to the fear of indignity, denial from the community, social stigma, inability to trust government bodies, and a gap in communication between parents and children about this issue.

With above background, Gender and Impact Studies (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi post News and GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation organised a joint talk on “ Towards Freedom from Child Sexual Abuse” by Ms Pooja Taparia, Founder and Chief Executive of ARPAN where she reflected the prevailing problem of child sexual abuse and ways of obtaining freedom from it.

TOwards freedom from child sexual abuse

According to Violence in Childhood Global Report 2017, approximately 1.7 billion have experienced some form of interpersonal violence in a year. WHO said that 20% of girls and 5-10% of boys are victims of sexual abuse. Ms Taparia pointed out that a recent systematic review in 2018 of 55 studies from 24 countries concluded that rates of child sexual abuse ranged from 8 to 31% for females and from 3 to 17 % for males.

Stating India’s reality in child sexual abuse she says, according to a national study by Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, more than half reported experience of sexual abuse among 12,447 children inter-viewed. Of these, 52% were boys and 47% were girls. According to the National Crime Record Bureau 2019, 35.3% of the criminal cases against children were of child sexual abuse.

“What makes child sexual abuse worse is that it has profound consequences on children lives which continue as adults and it continues to impact them throughout their lives”– Ms Pooja Taparia

Underlining various profound negative consequences of child sexual abuse, she states that it interferes with growth and development of the children further leading to behavioural, social, and mental health outcomes, poor adjustments, lack of trust and insecure relations with adults/parents. Such behavioural impacts can range from severe to low depending on a number of other factors like the severity of abuse, age of the child and child’s own resilience in coping with it.

Maladaptive health behaviours, neuro-biological systems damage, relational challenges including challenges in sexual relationships, violent behaviours and increased risk of perpetration of child sexual abuse as adults, physical disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, pregnancy, STIs and suicidal behaviours are some other major profound negative consequences of child sexual abuse.

Challenges

The normative structure has built the conspiracy of silence. Patriarchy, gender stereotypes, family construct and the associated stigmas with violence adds to the issue. She also shares her thought that emotional communication gap between a child and an adult restricts a child to talk.

While mentioning abuse in COVID-19 situation she highlightes that childline which is an emergency helpline saw a 19% drop in cases of sexual abuse as compared to the previous year’s record. However, in 2020 online child sexual abuse has increased during the pandemic as there was three times increase in child pornography during the lockdown. She emphasizes digital space as an enabler to accelerate and reach out to educate children and adults on the issue of child sexual abuse.

Way Forward

As a step to prevent CSA she elaborated ARPAN’S School-Based Model, involving various steps of counselling process (assessment, safety planning, preparing the child, parent caregiver interaction, impact work, follow up, closure) helping children’s understanding of what I am, what I can and what I have, supporting caregivers to be aware, communicate and effectively respond to children. The model helped children to self-evaluate feelings of guilt, anger, shame and increased the confidence, alertness and self-esteem among children.

Elucidating further she shared that a kind of model is needed with a preventative lens that encourages deterrence efforts along with intervention and treatment as it ensures the safety of an entire population. It should have the potential to diminish the number of sexual offenders in the general population and diminish the sexual victimization in the community. It should work with the objectives of risk reduction, primary, secondary and tertiary-level prevention. She talks about her Personal Safety Education Model which empowers children and adult with adequate knowledge and skills to prevent child sexual abuse.

“Any act by a powerful person for his/her sexual gratification including all kinds of contact and non-contact abuse is sexual abuse”– Ms Pooja

She insists that adult awareness and parenting tips for keeping children safe is a necessity. The awareness programs should focus on identifying child sexual abuse, its impact, laws and handling disclosures and the ways of prevention and response. She also emphasizes on the importance of imparting personal safety to children for enhancing their inner strength and required knowledge and skills to identify, refuse and report child sexual abuse.

She talks about POCSO (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012), an act designed to protect children under the age of 18 years from sexual abuse. It is a comprehensive law to provide for the protection of children from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography while safeguarding the interests of the child at every stage of the judicial process by incorporating child-friendly mechanisms for reporting, recording of evidence, investigation and speedy trial of offences through designated Special Courts.

“To make a world free from child sexual abuse, be aware, make others aware, be vigilant, communicate with your children regularly and seek professional help if a child discloses an experience of abuse”

While highlighting the lack of training among medical practitioners regarding child sexual abuse, Ms Taparia emphasizes on the need for training and capacity building for the effectiveness of POCSO act at the ground level. Also, she points the need for speedy trials regarding CSA cases to make people as well as medical practitioners more cooperative towards testifying in courts.

She also focusses on a need of more holistic approach at the ground level in which child and caregivers are empowered at the societal level, along with measures at all level (police, the judicial system and government policies) to enhance its effective implementation at ground, training and capacity building of professionals for preventing and protecting child sexual abuse.

Concluding her remarks, Ms Taparia says that the fight against child sexual abuse needs to be continued and consistent, and a more determined and perseverant work is required to be done by all of us to help and protect millions of children from sexual abuse.

YouTube Video for Towards Freedom from Child Sexual Abuse

Picture Courtesy: The Hill