One of every five children raped in India was from Maharashtra. At least two of all reported child molestations in the country took place in this state. Girls and boys are kidnapped from right outside their homes and raped; they are attacked by men they trust – uncles, older cousins, teachers, and even fathers. Offenders lurk around schools, playgrounds and are inside school buses.
And, these stark numbers are only of those cases where the crime was reported. In several thousands of other cases, the child suffers constant assault and violation day after day, in silence, either because they are not taken seriously or because of the taboo around the issue.
Numbers tell a tale
According to the latest available statistics with the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,267 children were raped in 2015 in Maharashtra. The records show 10,934 children reported rape across the country. Of 8,452 children who reported being molested across the country, 2,494 were from Maharashtra.
Maharashtra topped the list of child rapes, followed by Madhya Pradesh that year. Delhi, often called the rape capital, reported far fewer cases, at 928.
Another nationwide survey by the Women and Child Development Ministry in 2007 — the first such survey and the only one since — found that children aged five to 12 were most at risk of abuse and exploitation. It also found that 53.22% of the children surveyed reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; 21.90% of the child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse.
The report also highlighted that 50% of the abusers were known to the child or were “in a position of trust and responsibility”.
The difficulties of reporting rape
17-year-old Esha had stepped forward last year to complain about her father raping her on multiple occasions. After weeks of trying, the girl alleged the Bangur Nagar police was suppressing the matter and no one had been arrested. It was only after she took the complaint to the police commissioner did the case get transferred to a different police station, which began a probe.
In several cases HT came across, children already struggling to cope with being attacked and assaulted had to go on to face intimidating policemen who often did not take them seriously.
“Most children decide to talk about the abuse because they want it to stop. But they have to go through a legal system, and they are not ready for it. We should strive to minimise the trauma because the child is already reliving it at every step,” said Priti Patkar, the co-founder of Prerana, an NGO that rescues sexually abused children.
Living after abuse
A social worker with Prerana said children find it difficult to rebuild their lives after they are violated and abused. It’s a “disruption in their child-like behaviour”, the worker said, adding the effects are long-lasting, and in some cases even crippling.
Harish Iyer, a survivor of child sexual abuse and an active voice in raising awareness on the issue, recalls how he survived the abuse. “It used to be difficult to remember the abuse. It was like parts of a cryptic puzzle, a maze in your head. I would remember bits, but I would have headaches until I could remember the complete picture.”
Getting rid of the taboos
Many NGOs working in the sector said they are often left fighting with the child’s family to report a case of abuse.
“Most offenders turn out to be someone known to the child. For instance, if a stepfather assaults a girl child, the mother may ask the daughter if she provoked him,” said Jalpa Bhuta, a city-based child psychiatrist.
The taboo also stops parents from teaching their children basics, like the concept of bad touch and good touch.
“Parents should be able to talk to their child. Use a doll to teach the child what is good touch and bad touch. If a child builds up the courage to talk to a parent about something, listen to them and approach the situation in a non-judgmental way,” said Bhuta.
While there is a strong law in place — the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act — it is yet to grow into a strong enough deterrent, experts said. Until then, a good support system at home will help make children more aware, and help survivors cope with the attack better, social workers said.