Women speak up: True stories of child sex abuse from the heart of India

Across social strata, child abusers are usually someone known and trusted. How the family reacts to a first report is crucial, say survivors.

health Updated: May 21, 2017 08:53 IST
Child abuse,Child sexual abuse,Molestation
Abused children may become fearful, withdrawn, tearful, depressive and unable to concentrate.(iStock)
  • The most common symptoms include:
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Change in appetite or body weight
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping, frequent headache, stomachache or tiredness
  • Bullying others or becoming a victim of bullying
  • Unexplained guilt
  • Becoming weepy and clingy, difficulty concentrating

Shipra* was 13 when she saw her father sexually abusing her 18-month-old sister. When he realised what had happened, he responded by dragging Shipra to another room and beating her.

“I would see him molesting my sister every morning. “Each time I tried to pull her away, I got beaten,” she said. She tried to persuade her mother to not leave her sister alone with their father, but was too scared of him to say why.

And then one day little Prathma* stopped speaking. “My sister was alone with my father when we heard a sudden shout. We rushed there to find my father moving out of the room. She never spoke again,” says Shipra.

Prathma’s trauma ended when her mother witnessed the abuse. “My parents had a big fight. He said he’d leave home. And he did,” says Shipra.

Shipra had to drop out of school and work as domestic help to support her family. “My mother was a housewife and he left us no money, but we were happy to see him go,” she says.

Shipra had her mother’s support, but many abused children are abandoned or ignored by their families.

Kriti Prakash, 32, was six when she was sexually abused by an uncle.

Kriti Prakash, a victim of child sexual abuse, tells her story at the HT Woman Awards held in Lucknow on May 14. (Deepak Gupta / HT Photo)
  • 2-5 years: Discuss “good touch” and “bad touch”. Your child should know that some people can touch them in some ways, but not others; that all undressing should serve a purpose.
  • 5-8 years: Discuss ideas of privacy.Talk about puberty so they are prepared for pubertal development in a few years.
  • 9-12 years: Discuss intercourse, pregnancy, safe sex and contraception. By now they must have all their queries about sexual reproduction answered. Discuss what makes a relationship healthy. Point out if sex and sexuality are depicted unrealistically in popular media, including in video games.
  • 13-18 years: Be non-judgmental and encourage them to come to you for information and advice.

“It happened when my aunt was in hospital to deliver a baby. I grew up all of a sudden,” Prakash says. “I didn’t understand what was happening. all I felt was pain. I still recall that moment vividly. When he was done, he dropped me home.”

Terrified, she told her sister and they went to their mother, who asked them to forget it. “How could I forget? My brothers and sisters all moved on with their lives but I remained stuck in that night of December 25, 1990,” she says.

Her trauma continued because the uncle continued to visit the family. “I avoided him but he would seek me out in public and I had no choice but to be civil. I got depressed and couldn’t study. I wanted to end my life, but decided no, I should resist.”

Prakash made up her mind she would not be ashamed of what was done to her and told the man she would marry about the assault.

“My husband became my pillar of strength and motivated me to go in for social work and help other abuse survivors,” she says. “My mother and I talked, and she said she was not able to help because she had no family or social support and is proud I’m helping women and children.”

Prakash now has a four-year-old son. “I am teaching him to respect all women,” she says.

Courage under fire

Prakash recounted her story at the seventh edition of the HT Woman Awards, in Lucknow, on May 14. The awards focused on child sexual abuse to drive social and policy action.

“National Crime Record Bureau [NCRB] statistics show that 85% of victims are abused by family members and close relatives and only 25% of cases are reported; FIRs are registered in only 3%,” said UP health minister Siddharthnath Singh, speaking at the event. “The time has come that each mother should instill in each child the mindset that they should speak up… and expose the culprits,” he said, addressing an interactive session with Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari.

Across social strata, child abusers are usually someone known and trusted — relatives, family friends, neighbours, caregivers.

“Children usually don’t speak up because of fear or shame, and when they do, often they are silenced,” says Sangeeta Sharma, member of the Uttar Pradesh government’s Child Welfare Committee.

Strict laws are in place to curb such crimes. In India, cases of child sexual abuse are dealt with under the stringent Protection of Children against Sexual Abuse (POCSO) Act, which prescribes a minimum of 7 years and a maximum of life in prison. If the crime is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority, the minimum sentence is 10 years.

“Child sexual abuse is quite rampant, but the reporting and investigation of this crime needs to be improved. Forensic evidences including DNA must be collected immediately after the reporting of the crime, in order to enable conviction,” said Deputy Inspector General of Police (Lucknow) with the Central Bureau of Investigation, GK Goswami.

While complaints and conviction rates remain low, the impact of abuse is huge and sustained. Abused children may become fearful, withdrawn, tearful, depressive, unable to concentrate. They may start abusing other children, as an eight-year-old in Madhya Pradesh recently did.

“Give your child age-appropriate information as soon as they start spending time away from you, be it at playschool or another home,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director of mental health and behavioral sciences at Gurgaon’s Fortis Memorial Research Institute. “Communication is as important for a healthy childhood as the food they eat.”

(Names changed on request)

The story of a Lucknow mother

‘My 5-yr-old’s uncle abused her, said it was a game’

I used to be busy in office with no idea of what my five-year-old was undergoing at home. I had my reasons for being free of worry. We lived in a joint family, so she was never alone. There were grandparents, cousins and uncles and an aunt at home with her.

Then my daughter became withdrawn and preferred to stay in our room than play outside. When I asked her why, she complained of pain in her private parts and stomach. I thought she was unwell.

Soon after, as I was showing her a video on ‘good touch and bad touch’ on my mobile phone, she said, “I play this game with chacha regularly”.

Taken aback, I showed her the video again and asked about the ‘game’.

She said that the game was called ‘demon and monster’. All the cousins would hide and whoever found the hidden people would be free to do whatever they wished with them. My brother-in-law sexually abused my daughter as a part of the ‘game’.

When I told my husband about it, he did not support me, so I decided to fight it out on my own. I confronted my brother-in-law, he admitted to everything and apologised. My mother-in-law said he had “committed a mistake” and that I should forgive him. I couldn’t.

I filed an FIR against him. He was arrested and stayed in jail for two months.

My family still blames me for raising my voice against my daughter’s abuse. They sympathise with him; they got him out on bail.

They’re now trying to prove he’s a juvenile to help him escape punishment. Meanwhile, my daughter needed months of counselling and I am sure she will carry the scars all through life - never forgetting what happened with her.

( As told to Richa Srivastava)

First Published: May 19, 2017 22:48 IST