CSA in the Indian Context

The space of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is flooded with assumptions and contradictions and we address the issue in this very milieu and not in a vacuum space. Some of those assumptions which shape and influence the discourse of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in the Indian context are: children must have asked for Sexual abuse in some way; that it is not possible for very young children to be assaulted; Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) cannot happen in my family; that boys are not abused; that Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) occurs only among the poor; that family members cannot sexually abuse children of their families; women cannot sexually abuse; people who sexually abuse are mentally ill; child sexual abuse is part of growing up and have no adverse impact.

Despite instances of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in reality contradicting these assumptions head on, these myths still perpetuate because of two primary reasons. Most of these assumptions are rooted in the overarching framework of patriarchy and gender bias, which propagate double standards around sexuality and gender roles and make up the foundation to reinforce child sexual abuse. Hence on the one-hand we have institutions around child marriage and inter and intra generational marriages in the family, media which objectifies and treats children and women as sexual objects; on the other hand we have evolved family as the most sanctified space, family honour as the highest virtue to be safeguarded (which is directed through women’s sexuality in general and virginity in particular), unquestioned authority and respect to adults and forgiveness as key values to thrive on. These overt and covert normative frameworks along with lack of dialogue often provide confusing messages around sexuality, personal boundaries and relationship and reinforce sexuality as a tabooed subject and silence any disruption, which might affect family pride and honour. Secondly the gender roles that men and women are expected to perform and the subsequent socialization that they undergo also provides contradictory messages to children on sexuality and gender. While boys are expected to be ‘macho’, protector of women/children or abusers; women are expected to be passive, care-givers and victims. These stereotypical constructs teach boys that they need to be sexually experienced at marriage, it is okay to be aggressive and lack impulse control, boys can’t cry and seek support, boys cannot be violated, boys need to have unquestioned authority, etc. In a similar but contrary fashion, girls are taught to be meek, passive, accept male dominance, perform mothering role and be asexual and remain sexually inactive till marriage.

These bring in ramifications for the Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) discourse as these messages are internalized by each one of us in how we respond to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as survivors, family members of survivors, as offenders, as professionals and practitioners. Hence for survivors it is a long journey for being able to leave behind the stigma and taking responsibility of it, for families to accept and support it, for offenders to own up to the act and the affect it brings and as practitioners to understand the complex matrix from which CSA operates.

In the 1990s, some of the significant small-scale qualitative studies, which were carried out in various parts of India, revealed the extent and contours of CSA. Some of these studies were undertaken by the NGOs: Samvada, Bangalore; Sakshi, Delhi; RAHI, Delhi; and by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

  • In 1993-94, the Bangalore-based NGO Samvada undertook one of the first specific studies on CSA through a series of workshops for 348 girls aged between 15 and 21 years, who were from 11 schools and colleges in Karnataka. The study reported that 47 per cent of the girls had been molested or had experienced sexual overtures, and 15 per cent had been subjected to serious sexual abuse, including rape. One out of three children was under 10 years old when the abuse started. (; Enfold
  • In 1997, the Sakshi Violation Intervention Centre, a Delhi-based group, undertook a study of 350 schoolgirls. Of these 63 per cent had been sexually abused by someone in the family; 25 per cent had been raped, made to masturbate the perpetrator or perform oral sex. Over 30 per cent of the girls had been sexually abused by their fathers, grandfathers or male friends of the family.
  • In 1998, the Delhi-based NGO Recovering and Healing from Incest (RAHI) carried out a study in selected States on ‘Women’s Experience of Incest and Childhood Sexual Abuse’. The study had found that 76 per cent of middle and upper class women in Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Goa had been sexually abused as children, and 71 per cent of them had been abused by relatives or someone they knew and trusted. The study revealed that some women only realized that they had been abused when they were responding to the questionnaire (RAHI 1998 cited by WCD 2007b).
  • In 1999, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, interviewed 150 girls and found that 58 of them, more than one in three had been raped before the age of 10 (Krishnakumar 2003).

A couple of other studies also threw light on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and its prevalence and incidence.
One such study has been in 2006 by the Chennai-based NGO Tulir – Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, with the support of the international organisation Save the Children undertook a study of CSA in Chennai. It included 2211 class XI students, girls and boys, who had different socio-economic backgrounds and attended mainstream schools. The results of the study show that out of a total of 2211 child participants, 939 had faced at least one form of sexual abuse at some point in time. The study results show that 39 per cent of the girls faced sexual abuse, compared to 48 per cent of the boys; taken together this is 42 per cent of the children.

Another significant study at the pan Indian level has been the National Study on Child Abuse (2007). This study, which is the largest of its kind, covered 13 states with a sample size of 12447 children, 2324 young adults and 2449 stakeholders. The National Study reported the following:

  • 53.18 % children in the family environment not going to school reported facing sexual abuse
  • 49.92% children in schools reported facing sexual abuse
  • 61.61% children at work (Shop, factory or other places) reported facing sexual abuse
  • 54.51% children on the streets reported facing sexual abuse
  • 47.08 % children in institutional care reported facing sexual abuse
  • 20.90% of all children were subjected to severe forms of sexual abuse that included sexual assault, making the child fondle private parts, making the child exhibit private body parts and being photographed in the nude
  • 50% abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility

From these studies, it’s that Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) does occur and it does not occur as a sporadic incident but it is a reality that touches at least 40%-50% of children’s life in India. Inspite of such grim statistics, currently there are only four organizations in India working on the issue in a focused manner. Hence the need is great to make people aware about this malaise in society and bring the issue out in the open and talk about it.