Socio-Cultural and Family Factors leading to Child Sexual Abuse
“What was taken from me, or any child that was abused will always be gone forever. The innocence that every child deserves to grow up with was stolen."
Child abuse is a state of emotional, physical, economic and sexual maltreatment meted out to a person below the age of eighteen and is a globally prevalent phenomenon. However, in India, as in many other countries, there has been no understanding of the extent, magnitude and trends of the problem. The growing complexities of life and the dramatic changes brought about by socio-economic transitions in India have played a major role in increasing the vulnerability of children to various and newer forms of abuse. Child abuse has serious physical and psycho-social consequences which adversely affect the health and overall well-being of a child.
According to WHO: ''Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.''
There are numerous, large-scale obstacles to addressing child abuse and neglect (CAN) in India. Poverty is a major factor which impedes families' ability to provide adequate shelter, medical care, and nutrition for their children, which at times results in child abandonment. Poverty also negatively influences access to education which results in low literacy rates. Incidents of CAN, including CSA, are often underreported, which is in part due to the fact that most child maltreatment is committed by family. Another factor related to low reported rates of CAN is due to cultural beliefs related to parental rights. The beliefs that children do not have rights and are their parents' personal property are prevalent. Moreover, children may be blamed for “causing” their parents to abuse them, and in some cases of sexual abuse, “enticing” the parent or adult who abused them; hence, the classic ‘blaming the victim’. Additionally, if children disclose their abuse, their accounts may be discredited as the testimonies of adults often override those of children. Finally, female children are especially vulnerable to abuse and less likely to receive education, nutrition, and medical care due to their lower social status and in some families, treating treatment as a burden. Another cultural norm in India that prevents disclosure of and intervention into CAN, including child sexual abuse, is the practice of family secrecy. Sharing private family matters is taboo, and the family's business is expected to be dealt with privately by the family.
To avoid shame, families must protect their reputation and standing within the community. Children's identities are rooted in the family's identity; thus anything that would jeopardize their family's name is kept hidden at times even from other family members. Secrecy about CSA protects perpetrators instead of children and allows the abuse to continue. Failure of parents or caregivers to believe and act to protect children is devastating for child victims. It increases their level of distress and prevents children from receiving the mental health treatment they may desperately need. Despite the above challenges, the protection of children from maltreatment falls on the shoulders of India's families and communities and must be made a priority of the government at all sectors . These authors assert that in the patriarchal system, children have few rights, and although the Constitution of India includes children’s rights, it emphasizes mainly the need based rights of children. Laws that prohibit child maltreatment need to be enforced and perpetrators held responsible through prosecution. “With an increasing incidence of child abuse, India needs both legislation and large scale interventions to address this problem”.Such interventions must include information about child sexual abuse and other forms of abuse and neglect that can be disseminated in schools and throughout communities.
Awareness of the rights and laws by various stakeholders including children is essential. We have to recognize the enormity of the problem, and tackle it politically, legally, and socially with significant commitment from the State and civil society. The effects of the processes of globalization, privatization and liberalization on children must be seriously considered and addressed. The negative linkage of globalization and privatization on the rights of children in several countries across the world needs to be examined. Today, the country is registering 8-10 per cent growth and claiming that it would become a world economic power by 2020. Can we, however, become a world economic power with our children being abused, exploited and trafficked, and their rights violated?
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India Country Report on Violence against Children, 2005
Child Abuse ,Kacker and Kumar 2008,98.
 The Legislative and Institutional Framework for Protection of Children in India by Asha Bajpai.
Name: Anjali Jaiswal
College: NMIMS School of Law
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