Unified voices needed to prevent child sexual abuse

You can read the article on Financial Express 

By Sonali Maheshwari.

Tanuja is a health & life coach, an author and also a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse. She was only in grade 3 when her mother was sent away to an asylum after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. “A motherless child was an easy target” she says. It has taken Tanuja over 3 decades to feel a bit comfortable in speaking about the abuse who says she is “yet to completely heal from the experience.” So what made her speak out after 30 long years? Her response is prompt, “I fear for the emotional health of all children, as a single incidence of abuse can maim them and mar the quality of their lives. Awareness, timely interventions, and pertinent education can save them from a lot of emotional harm.”

The idea of harming or hurting a child is repugnant to most people. Yet, the problem of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) persists globally. In India, 1 out of every 2 children faces some form of CSA (study on Child Abuse by Ministry of Women & Child Development, GoI (2007) & 95% of the times the abuser is somebody known to the child – a family friend, a relative or a neighbour (National Crime Records Bureau (2019)). In the time where technology has taken over almost all spheres, children are also dependent on digital means for their education and social needs. This has increased the risks of sexual abuse online. According to research reports, both boys and girls can be sexually abused and are at equal risk. It is even harder to learn that, globally 1 in 3 children who are abused by an adult did not tell anyone about the abuse. And that 1 in 3 adults would not believe a child if they disclosed sexual abuse, despite the fact that in 98% of reported cases the child’s statements were found to be true.

Additionally, studies have shown that childhood experiences of the trauma related to sexual abuse have long lasting effects on the individual. These effects prolong even as the child grows into an adult. Several adverse health impacts such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression/ anxiety further resulting in, altered thyroid activity, gastrointestinal, gynecologic, pain and cardiopulmonary symptoms, obesity, sexual risk behaviours, substance abuse have been documented in different studies. And the most devastating consequence is- attempt to suicide by survivors of childhood sexual abuse is 10 to 13 times more likely.

Given the context and with the increase in the number of online abuse, it’s imperative that we match the scale of awareness to the scale of the issue. We need unified voices to come together and raise the decibel so there is mass awareness of the issue. And this can be done by empowering children with age-appropriate knowledge related to their personal safety – about safe & unsafe touches, safe & unsafe situations, how to recognise them and how to respond to them. Along with this, adults too are needed to be trained and made aware about the issue of CSA, strategies to prevent it and disclosure (by a child facing abuse or previously faced) management.

Child Safety Week (CSW) that was recently observed (14th – 20th Nov.) across India is a step in the right direction. It brought several organisations, corporates, educational institutions and influencers together so they could amplify the key message – #NowIsTheTime. Video messages by celebrities like Vidya Balan & Hiten Tejwani who supported the CSW have alone reached millions of people creating awareness of the issue. The efforts of some government departments are praiseworthy too. Following a directive by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), states like Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Uttarakhand & Gujarat observed Child Safety Week on the ground where young children, adolescents & families were educated on Personal Safety. NCERT organised two talk shows on PMeVidya DTH channels for grades 1 to 12 where children were trained LIVE about Personal Safety in offline and online environments. In Chattisgarh, a toll-free child helpline number (1800-123-6010) was launched at a programme on Child Protection organized by the Crime Research Department, Police Headquarters and UNICEF. Furthermore, as a part of Child Safety Week, Thane Gramin Police Department trained over 50 police officers on subjects like Child Sexual Abuse, handling disclosures & POCSO.

This momentum shall not stop here. Let’s pledge to unite and make unified voices for the prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and other forms of abuse which are jeopardising the societal vision of having a safe, healthy & happy world for each child.

(The author is Lead- Advocacy at Arpan. She is a social development professional with eleven years of experience in the development sector. She has extensive experience in advocacy and leading interventions, focusing developmental themes such as Gender Equality, Women Empowerment, Child safety & Maternal Child Health & Nutrition. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).