Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Monster in Our Midst: Child Sexual Abuse

My friend Kiran Manral asked if I’d contribute to the wonderful initiative she’s involved with: CSAAM April 2013 Women and the girl child are two issues that are close to me - naturally, I said yes.

Amartya Sen, the Nobel-prize-winning economist in his book, The Argumentative Indian, posits that we Indians have a long tradition of argument and public debate. And yet, despite this continuing vigor for discussion, the sexual abuse of children has stayed under a shroud for long. Renuka Chowdhury, when she was incharge of the ministry of women and  child development, MWCD, called it "the conspiracy of silence". Time then that we added the issue of CSA to our topics of argument and discussion.

Let's talk. 

First, What is child sexual abuse?

According to the World Health Organisation, child sexual  abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not  fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or that violates the  laws or social taboos of society.

When Aamir Khan focused on CSA in an episode of his much-watched Satyamev Jayate series on TV, the issue of sexual abuse of children in India probably got its first public airing. Which was good, but in concrete terms, not even the tip of the iceberg. A recent Human Rights Watch report, pertinently titled 'Breaking the Silence' sheds light on where we are and how far we need to go. I'd urge you to go through the report (linked above), if not in full, at least the summary and recommendations to appreciate the gravity of the problem. 

But perhaps you won't feel the need for it because you already know. Growing up in India we know people - friends, relatives, perhaps ourselves - who have faced sexual abuse. 

We may like to believe, conveniently, that abuse is a problem faced by children in institutions. This simply isn't true. According to a report by the MWCD in 2007 in 50% cases the abuser was in a relationship of trust with the child.

According to the Human Rights Watch report more than 7200 children, including infants, are raped every year; experts believe that many more cases go unreported. The abuse of children is a fact around the world but the particular monster under our child's bed is all too real. Here's why.

Factors that contribute to this abuse and malaise in India:

- Fear of social stigma
- Lack of faith in government institutions which prevents people from reporting cases of abuse
- Our cultural norms, such as a general lid on any discussion regarding sex within an Indian family. We're content to view Katrina gyrating on the family telly prime time but will oppose sex education at school. 
- The position of family and elders in our society: the paramountacy of both makes it difficult for a victim to report on his abusive elder or an authority figure
- Deep-rooted traditions: Among  the Naths of Bihar, prostitution is a way of life. When a family doesn’t have a  daughter, girls are purchased from other parts of the state and pushed into sex  work so that the family can live off their earnings. 

What can we do?
As a society we need to recognize that sexual exploitation of children is about power. How then do we begin to snip the links in this chain?

- Become aware, spread the word, join this initiative
- Inform and Educate our children, forewarned is truly forearmed in this case 
- Be vigilant, watch out for signs of abuse of your children and of those around you 
- Speak up - add CSA to the topic that argumentative Indians start talking about

As Hillary Clinton says in her bestselling book, it truly does take a village to raise a child. 

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