The sounds of silence: Child sexual abuse in India

53% of children in India face some form of child sexual abuse. To what extent will the new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill help? And is it time for campaigners to replace ‘vulnerability’ with ‘oppression’ and ‘protection’ with ‘empowerment’ in the battle against CSA?

The recent sentencing of Alan Waters and Duncan Grant to six years’ imprisonment for the sexual abuse of young boys who were in their care at the Anchorage shelter in South Mumbai has once again drawn our attention to the need for stringent legislation and action against those who exploit children for sexual purposes.

Earlier this year, the central government did draft such a legislation: the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill was sent to the various states for consideration. One version of the Bill became available to the press through sources at the Ministry of Women and Child Development. One clause in particular (regarding the decriminalising of non-penetrative sexual exploration between children older than 12) was much discussed in various public and media forums. Prior to this, the sexual abuse of children became a matter of public interest following publication of the report by the MWCD entitled ‘Study on Child Abuse India 2007’ which revealed that more than 53% of children in India have probably been sexually abused and many have never shared the fact of this abuse with anyone.

Periodically therefore, when there is a report that generates public interest or a high-profile case of paedophilia, the sexual abuse of children becomes a matter of public concern and often of anger and indignation. As Chris Jenks points out in his essay published in 1996, Suffer Little Children: A Sociological Analysis of Changing Attitudes to Child Abuse in the Late-Twentieth Century’ child abuse is one of those topics/issues in response to which “normative assumptions inherent in the notions of ‘decency’ and ‘right-mindedness’ are automatically invoked”.

The present article focuses on the issue of child sexual abuse in India as a sociological one. There are several arguments made in the field of childhood studies on the linkages between the notions of Child and Nation and the overloading of nostalgia and romance that surrounds the trope of Childhood. In that discourse the public furore and the similarity of response among various stakeholders is read as an automatic defence of discourses concerning  “stability, integration and the social bond”. In itself, this approach contains much to learn from and take cognisance of for all those who engage in various ways with this issue. However, this makes for a separate argument and article altogether. For the moment, it is necessary to understand the extent of the problem of CSA in India and the ways in which child protection mechanisms of the state and civil society engage with it.

Read on to know more