The arrest of a Walkeshwar schoolteacher on Monday for allegedly sodomising a six-year-old student underscores the need of preventive programmes and stringent security policies as most cases of child sexual abuse are not reported, say child rights activists.
"Nearly 180 million children in India are marginalised and are extremely vulnerable," said Nishit Kumar, spokesperson for Childline, a non-profit which runs a help line for children. "It is critical to organise preventive programmes so that children can recognise and avoid abuse." In March, Childline started an awareness programme in 600 schools in the city, using story-telling to make children aware of sexual abuse.
Arpan, an NGO that works to protect children from sexual abuse, recently completed a six-day personal safety workshop at Bombay Cambridge School, Andheri, and will start a similar initiative in the city's low-income group schools after Diwali.
"This programme is essential because it helps children speak out," said Savita, principal, Bombay Cambridge School. "They need to know that if something goes wrong it is not their fault and they can share it."
According to a 2007 report by the ministry of women and child development (see box), 53.22% of the 12,447 children surveyed across 13 states said that they had faced one or more form of sexual abuse, but most did not report it. Although abuse is prevalent in all strata of society, those most vulnerable include children on the streets, along with those made to work, and the ones in institutional care.
"Much work needs to be done in the area of prevention," said Pooja Taparia, founder and CEO of Arpan. "Moreover, parents need awareness and knowledge on how to intervene appropriately when abuse is reported. Often, children feel uncomfortable about opening up because parents do not believe them."
Priti Patkar, director of Prerna, an NGO which provides shelter to children of commercial sex workers, said schools should screen their staff. "Children may or may not retain safety training, but schools must have a child protection policy and a dedicated mechanism to receive complaints."