It took two weeks of counselling sessions for the 14-year-old girl, who brought the battered baby girl to AIIMS Trauma Centre last fortnight, to talk about her own ordeal.
She had been forced into commercial sex trade a year ago and sexually abused by several men, the teenager told counsellors at the child shelter home where she was put by the Child Welfare Committee. She grew up watching her father beat her mother, who died five years ago, and then her. The beating and neglect made her run away from home and end up being exploited by strangers.
Her story echoes that of several others. More than 53% children report facing one or more forms of sexual abuse, showed the first ever National Study on Child Abuse in April 2007, covering 13 states in India.
"Abuse is grossly under-reported because of the stigma attached to it. People prefer to suffer than acknowledging the trauma publicly," said Dr Pulkit Sharma, consultant clinical psychologist and psychoanalytical therapist at New Delhi's VIMHANS. In most cases, the abuser is a family member, friend or neighbour, which makes the child and, in some cases even the parents, hesitant to talk about the abuse.
Emotional hurt is the common thread that links all abused children. Many develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and personality disorders later in life.
Professional counselling helps overcome the trauma. Treatment usually lasts for a year and is divided into three phases. The initial two months are spent in building trust, the next few months deal with making the victim comfortable enough to talk about the trauma, while the final phase focuses on helping the child make a fresh start.
"We use talking, art, colour and music therapy to help abused children express themselves . It needs a lot of patience as they do not trust easily and have a lot of rage within them," said a counsellor at the child shelter home, on condition of anonymity.
Still, there's no guarantee that the abused child will be cured. "In my 25 years career that includes counselling in jails such as Tihar, I have not seen anyone being cured of past trauma. What we aim to achieve is a certain level of control so that they don't harm themselves or others. Often, long-term counselling is needed to ensure this," said Dr Rajat Mitra, director, Swanchetan, Society for Mental Health.