Child abuse in India

Originally posted on May 28, 2012

A 2007 study on the rate child abuse in India made news recently. Earlier this month, Aamir Khan mentioned the Study on Child Abuse: India 2007 on his show Satyamev Jayate. He and his guests cited one of the findings of the study: 53.22 percent of Indian children experience sexual abuse, and most of the victims are male.

The results fly in the face of people and the researchers’ expectations. According to the study’s preface:

  • Two out of every three children were physically abused.
  • Out of 69% children physically abused in 13 sample states, 54.68% were boys.
  • Over 50% children in all the 13 sample states were being subjected to one or the other form of physical
  • abuse.
  • Out of those children physically abused in family situations, 88.6% were physically abused by parents.
  • 65% of school going children reported facing corporal punishment i.e. two out of three children were
  • victims of corporal punishment.
  • 62% of the corporal punishment was in goverment and municipal school.
  • 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.
  • 21.90% child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse and 50.76% other forms of
  • sexual abuse.
  • Out of the child respondents, 5.69% reported being sexually assaulted.
  • Children on street, children at work and children in institutional care reported the highest incidence of
  • sexual assault.
  • 50% abuses are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.
  • Every second child reported facing emotional abuse.
  • Equal percentage of both girls and boys reported facing emotional abuse.
  • Most children did not report the matter to anyone.

These are just some of the results that the Women and Child Development Ministry’s found. Once one gets into the numbers, the extent of the situation proves to be much worse. 

For example, the researchers found that almost 89 percent of children reported physical abuse at the hands of their parents, 50.9 percent of which was committed by their mothers, and 37.6 percent committed by their fathers. The researchers tried to explain the high rate of physical abuse:

Although the study had not gathered any empirical data which would indicate the possible reasons for such a high percentage of physical abuse against children, it can possibly be attributed to the following reasons: a patriarchal society that looks upon the children as the property of the father; poor parenting skills; the vulnerability of the child in conditions outside the family environment, eg., on the street, at work and in institutions; belief in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’; dysfunctional families; and a high level of domestic violence in the family. (p.48)

Of the children abused by non-family members:

Among 34% of those children reporting physical abuse by others, the incidence of physical abuse was reported highest by teachers (44.80%), followed by employers (12.39%), care givers (9.45%) and NGO workers (4.78%) and the rest 28.58% children reported having been physically abused by peers, the police, local dadas, etc. (p.48)

Another whopping 65.01 percent of children reported being beaten in schools, with boys making up 54.28 percent of the victims. The researchers also found that 53.8 percent of children faced corporal punishment in state schools, while 22.3 percent faced it public schools, 7.9 percent in municipal schools, and 3.1 percent in other types of schools. In institutions, which ranged from group homes to juvenile detention centers, boys made up 62.73 percent of those physically abused.

That is a ridiculously high rate of physical violence against children, a matter made worse by the Indian culture’s unwillingness to discuss the issue and their desire to keep it in the family. To that point, when the researchers asked young adults about their experiences of abuse, the researchers found similar rates of abuse (the researchers used different questions for young adults). Yet many young adults who experienced this violence agreed with using it on children:

In spite of the fact that 60.35% of those young adults physically abused were abused by parents, it is interesting that 48% of these very young adults felt that physical punishment is necessary to discipline children. While 22.14% disagreed with the necessity of physical punishment, 29.80% of the respondents had no opinion on the matter. When the young adult respondents were asked about the most suitable form of punishment for ensuring discipline and good conduct among children, majority (40.17%) of them were in favour of scolding or shouting, followed by 13.27% in favour of slapping or beating with stick. Almost 11% of the respondents felt that locking up the child in a room or denying food to the child was a suitable form of punishment. 35.53% of the young respondents suggested any other form of punishment to children that included withdrawing love and affection, social ostracism, fixing a tight work schedule, isolation, etc. (p.66)

When it came to sexual abuse, the numbers contradicted the general expectations. The results showed that more boys than girls faced sexual abuse:

Out of the total child respondents, 53.22% reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse that included severe and other forms. Among them 52.94% were boys and 47.06% girls. The age wise distribution of children reporting sexual abuse in one or more forms showed that though the abuse started at the age of 5 years, it gained momentum 10 years onward, peaking at 12 to 15 years and then starting to decline. This means that children in the teenage years are most vulnerable. The study looked at gender-wise break up of children who were subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse in the sample states. The significant finding was that contrary to the general perception, the overall percentage of boys was much higher than that of girls. In fact 9 out of 13 States reported higher percentage of sexual abuse among boys as compared to girls, with states like Delhi reporting a figure of 65.64%. It would be interesting to see if this trend of higher percentage of boys being sexually abused continues when seen separately in severe and other forms of sexual abuse. (p.75)

The higher rate of boys being sexually abused did hold through the different types of sexual abuse. The researchers found that of the 20.90 percent of children subjected to severe sexual abuse, 57.30 percent were boys and 42.70 percent were girls.

Here is the breakdown:

  • Of the 5.9 percent of children who reported sexual assault (defined as penetration of the anus, vagina or oral sex), 54.4 percent were boys and 45.6 percent were girls.
  • Of the 14.5 percent of children who reported being made to fondle someone, 58.40 percent were boys and 41.60 percent were girls.
  • Of the 12.6 percent of children who reported that someone forced them to show their private parts, 60.25 percent were boys and 39.75 percent were girls.
  • Of the 4.9 percent of children who were photographed in the nude, 52.01 percent were boys and 47.99 percent were girls.

Only when it came to forced kissing (55.02 percent were girls, 44.98 percents boys), sexual advances during travel situations (11 percent were boys, 60.89 percent girls ), and sexual advances during marriage did girls greatly out number boys as victims (46.35 percent were boys, 53.65 percent girls) did girls outnumber boys as victims.

That is not meant as a tit-for-tat comparison; it is meant to show that much of what people think they know about sexual abuse is based on assumptions and gender-biased studies. When researchers bother to ask boys about their sexual abuse history, they often find that boys are abused at higher rates than anyone expected and that those rates are typically close to or the same as the rate of sexual violence against girls.

Acknowledging sexual and physical violence against boys in no way takes away from violence against girls. Recognizing the one does not mean ignoring the other unless one deliberately tries to keep the focus only on one group.

The researchers also found similar rates of sexual violence among young adults:

The questionnaire relating to young adults looked at sexual assault in two forms: one penetration of anus and vagina by objects, and second penetration by penis and oral sex. Out of the 2324 young adult respondents, 10.33% reported having been subjected to sexual assault of one or both forms. When looked separately, 9.2% of young respondents reported penetration by penis and 7.4% by objects. The high percentage of young adults reporting penetration by an object is a reflection of the brutality perpetrated on children. The gender break up of all young adult respondents having faced sexual assault during childhood revealed that more males (58.33%) faced one or both forms of sexual assault as compared to females (41.67%). This is an indicator that parents of all socio-economic groups need to look out for the safety of boys. (p.98)

Even when it came to emotional abuse, boys were just as likely as girls to experience it:

Out of the total child respondents (12447), 48.37% children reported emotional abuse of one form or the other. Of this boys constituted 49.99% and girls 50.01%. Though aspects of girl child neglect have not been added in this section, the percentage of girls and boys reported almost equal perception of emotional abuse. (p.106)

Simply put, boys face just as much risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as girls, and in some cases greater risk. There is no excuse for ignoring boys’ plight or treating any form of abuse as a gender-specific crime.

While these findings help reveal some aspect of the rate of child abuse in India, the study is not without its problems. For one, the researchers used different questionnaires for the children and young adults. This is not altogether bad, but it does present a problem when it comes to comparing the data because the methodology is slightly different. For example:

The questions addressed to young adults were a little different compared to questions addressed to
child respondents. While the young adults were asked whether father was an abuser, uncle or neighbour as a category was not there. In the cases of child respondents the situation was opposite; while father was not a category at all, the uncle and neighbour were, making it difficult to do a comparative analysis. (p.99-100)

The researchers acknowledged the limitations of the study on page 19 of the paper, some of which include defining neglect as something that can only happen to girls, failing to ask about the socioeconomic status of the respondents, and failing to ask about sexual abuse within institutions and among street kids.

This does not make the study useless, yet it does present a problem because the study only presents part of the picture. Nevertheless, even this partial snapshot shows the problems a country like India has with its position on child abuse. Many of the young adults preferred to address issues of abuse within the family rather than involve the authorities. Yet many of the children reported never telling anyone about the abuse. Of the few who did, very little happened as a result.

How can a culture stop a problem that it prefers to stay silent about and keep within the family when most of said problem happens within the family?

That unfortunately reinforces the code of silence. The victims learn that what happened to them is something to be ashamed of and to keep secret for the family’s sake. That in turn opens the door for further abuse because children will learn that coming forward will only cause familial conflict.

The Study on Child Abuse: India 2007 shows that there is a broader cultural element at play when it comes to abuse. There is a permissive attitude about violence against children that allows this kind of abuse to occur at such high rates. India is not alone in that. Many other cultures, including Western cultures, hold the same attitudes. Only by challenging those attitudes by talking about the impact of the abuse will we change people’s views on this issue. That is not an easy thing to do, either for the victims or for the culture at large, yet it is something we all need to do if we truly want to stop child abuse.

4 thoughts on “Child abuse in India

  1. Pingback: Memorial Day Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion « Clarissa's Blog

  2. This flies in the face of the (anecdotal) talk I have heard that Indian families absolutely dote on their boy children, and children in general are allowed to get away with a lot of naughtiness because life is hard and they will find that out soon enough. I find it difficult to believe, it sounds like the rubbish about prostitution rings following the football World Cup around the world, which always gets an airing, and is total nonsense. I need to see far more about the methodology used.

    If this problem is so prevalent why are we only just hearing about it?

  3. Pingback: Top Posts of 2012 | Toy Soldiers

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