* A teenager allegedly raped a three-year-old girl in a vacant house in Nallasopara on November 4, by luring her to play. The police learnt that the accused, a waiter, had seen a pornographic film before picking up the girl
* On November 10, a 40-year-old man was charged with raping his minor sister-in-law. The police said accused Harijan Lal, a Borivli resident, was in an inebriated state at the time of the rape
* A 17-year-old boy was arrested on November 3, for allegedly sodomising his three-year-old neighbour. The police said that the accused had lured the girl with a chocolate and took her to an isolated spot and threatened her before sodomising her
* The Nirmal Nagar police arrested two 17-year-old boys on November 2, for allegedly raping a four-year-old girl. The police said that the accused are the victim’s neighbours. The girl sustained serious injuries on her private parts and is still undergoing treatment.
At least 108 cases of rapes of minors have been reported since January 2009. The real numbers could be higher, as many cases go unreported due to family pressure, fear of social stigma and many times, a lack of awareness.
Punishment for such a crime may not always be in your control but prevention is.
“It’s about respecting your child’s body, at the very start. Many times, parents, without realising, change their child’s clothes in public, leaving him or her vulnerable,” says Sunil Arora, social worker and father of two.
He adds, “In Indian families, there is no concept of ‘space’ and therefore, boundaries are very blurred and almost every chacha or mama has easy access to your child in private at family gatherings or religious functions.” Arora says teaching a child to be wary of them might distort his innocence. “But what we can probably do is through subtle measures, teach the child what is and isn’t appropriate so that he or she has reason to be alarmed when things do not fall into them.”
Like in the case of a minor girl who was allegedly raped by her brother-in-law in Borivli recently, in most cases of paedophilia, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim and the family.
In the movie Monsoon Wedding, Ria Verma [played by Shefali Chhaya] relived the horror of her experiences, when, at a wedding, her uncle Tej Puri (played by Rajat Kapoor) makes overtures towards her niece, Aliya. The same uncle had abused Ria sexually when she was a child.
Many times, the child is afraid of telling the parent what happened, so the crime goes unnoticed but leaves deep scars and distorted perspectives in the mind of the child — a baggage it carries for several years. Like Ria did in Monsoon Wedding.
Counselling psychologist Brinda Jaising believes that through story telling and play or doll therapy, children open up about such acts, but they weren’t aware that they were wrong at that point. “It is also a great way to communicate appropriateness of sexual behaviour with your child,” she says.
Jaising also doesn’t believe paedophilia is restricted to the lower classes. “In fact it is more rampant in higher classes, and big, rich families. There is a phase when the child is neither too big nor too small,” says Jaising. “Sometimes it could be an uncle or an older cousin or a grandparent who could display affection and lure the child into doing what he or she doesn’t really want to do.”
“It all boils down to parenting,” says Arora, who thinks being a friend is more important than being a parent to your child “They should know at any given moment, when something not-so-okay is happening to them, they should be able to turn around and give me a look. Open communication with the child is very important.”
One also needs to strike a delicate balance, says Archana Samarth, a clinical psychologist who works with several NGOs. “You can talk about these things in a ‘by the way’ manner, and not necessarily sit across a table and address it. Else you may create unnecessary paranoia or insecurity,” she says.
Samarth also believes that sexual crimes on children can be perpetuated by any body, and gender or class bars don’t necessarily exist. “We think the girl-child needs to be protected, but that is not so,” she says.
“But people are getting more sensitised to the issue,” adds Samarth, “and these days would think twice before asking a child to sit on their lap, say while traveling by public transport. Children also have become far smarter and more alert.”
Aradhana Choudhri, a mother of two boys, aged four and two questions the legal definition and wonders if 13-year-olds indulging in a bit of experimentation would be construed as a sexual crime. “There is so much exposure these days. I mean, how does one explain the use of the middle finger on a TV show to a child. Or even the use of the f***word?”
She continues, “Many times, it is also curiosity on the part of the child to explore sexual encounters with people they are familiar with, so the child doesn’t even know he/she is being abused. Children are always going for sleepovers, prom dates…how do you define boundaries?”
Choudhri feels non-judgmental listening is very important, so the child is not threatened by your reaction, and feels he or she can talk to you about anything without feeling guilt.