The sanctimonious pride with which we espouse Indian family values has been proved to be a myth. The ugly truth is out — one out of every two Indian children has suffered some form of abuse. The statistics on child abuse thrown up by the biggest ever study on the subject in the world by an NGO in partnership with the United Nations and the government is shocking, to say the least. But this is not altogether unexpected. Child abuse has so far been something of a dreadful secret that we dared not speak about. The study makes it clear that the problem can no longer be swept under the carpet. Predictably, the Department of Women and Child Development has asked the Planning Commission for Rs 2,000 crore for various child protection schemes. This is an admission that very little has been done to protect children from predators so far.
There are no simple solutions to this issue. However, a series of measures must be instituted without delay if we are to begin the battle against child abuse. To begin with, the child must be sensitised to what constitutes abuse. Parents need to shake off their false morality when it comes to discussing matters like sexual abuse with children. The schools have a significant role to play also. Teachers have to be vigilant for signs that a child is suffering from abuse. Such children invariably display symptoms of abuse like aggression, withdrawal from daily life and, of course, in cases sport physical scars. For children who have suffered abuse, there has to be counselling to help overcome their trauma. As in the West, part of the solution lies in an aggressive community that monitors its members for potential child abuse. This may seem an intrusion into people’s personal space but has to be done for the protection of children who are truly voiceless and vulnerable.
We have several laws to protect children, but few are implemented. The government has the moral responsibility to end the economic abuse of millions of child workers. It would help greatly if our elected representatives took up these life and death issues in public forums rather than witter on about inconsequential political issues. The study underlines the gravity and extent of the problem. Apathy from society and the government now would be a crime against our future generation.