A child cries in silence: Sexual abuse widespread

Abusers can threaten the child with dire consequences for disclosing the sexual exploitation. But a child will talk freely only when s/he feels safe. If a child says that s/he has been molested, parents should try to remain calm and reassure them that what happened was not their fault

A human being is the only animal that is capable of engaging in sexual intercourse with young children. Child sexual abuse can occur in a variety of settings, including at home, school or work, especially in places where child labour is common.

Sexual exploitation of children is not a new phenomenon. In fact, in many societies in the past, it was not only accepted, but even encouraged. Children were given as gifts to be used and sexually abused.

The global prevalence of child sexual abuse has been estimated at 19.7 per cent for females and 7.9 per cent for males. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30 per cent are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; around 60 per cent are

other acquaintances, such as “friends” of the family, babysitters, or neighbours; strangers are the offenders in approximately 10 per cent of child sexual abuse cases.

In Nepali society, discussion on sexual abuse and exploitation of children hardly takes place, even though it is prevalent and widespread. The cases and data from the field and newspapers are only illustrative examples.

A research conducted by Women Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) in all 75 districts recently showed that 46 per cent of the survivors of sexual abuse were girls under 16. The data is based on cases registered with police stations and WOREC safe houses.

I was told an incident in the eastern part of Nepal by a mother four years ago.

My 7-year-old daughter was very much loved by her 20-year-old paternal uncle, and he often took her out to play. One night, I noticed red marks on her neck and chest. When I asked her what happened, my daughter told me that her uncle had caused them and had warned her not to tell anyone about them.

“I was shocked. After that day, I never allowed my daughter to stay close to the uncle. I felt so helpless as I could not tell anybody about this incident. People would not believe me and would accuse me of disrespecting my in-laws,” she said.

Binita Adhikari, Director of Antardristi Nepal, an organisation that works with child victims of sexual abuse, told me in 2016, “Since our organisation was established 16 years ago, we have received 197 cases of child domestic sexual abuse. Twenty-six of them are now residing in a safe house. In total, we have reintegrated 171 children, out of which 12 are boys”. Her statement shows that boys are also abused sexually.

A senior psychiatrist, Dr Biswa Bandhu Sharma, had explained, “When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child continues to suffer, and later may develop mental health problems. A child who is a victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and may become withdrawn and distrustful of adults, and could even become suicidal. It takes a lot of effort and rapport building to bring the issue out”.  While doing research on child marriage, I went to Makwanpur in January 2015 to discuss with the local community-based organisations (CBOs) about the incidents of sexual abuse. I was heartbroken to hear a story of a young girl who had been raped by her father.

A 15-year-old girl approached some women activists with a complaint about her father. He had been sexually assaulting her for some time. The girl informed her mother, but the mother tried to silence her. As the husband was the breadwinner of the family, the mother could not gather courage to go against him. However, the 15-year-old was determined to pursue her case and sought outside help. Her case was taken to the police, and the accused was arrested.

One would have expected the father to be ashamed for indulging in such a heinous crime. Instead what he said was most shocking. “I had raped my first two daughters, and no one had arrested me. I will be a free person soon,” he said in front of everyone even while being imprisoned.

“These days more and more cases of rape and incest are coming out in the open, but the estimate is that only 20 per cent of the total incidents are reported,” pointed out Bishnu Ojha from Makawanpur. “Several boys too fall prey to paedophiles in schools, neighbourhoods and homes, but such cases are never reported”.

In 2016, in Kailali, I learnt that there had been a gang rape of a minor. Later the villagers made each perpetrator of the crime hand over Rs. 25,000 to the family of the child and then forced her to leave the village. What can be more cruel than this? “The family left, and no one knows where they went. This case was not reported,” said a woman activist.

Abusers can threaten the child with dire consequences for disclosing the sexual exploitation. But a child will talk freely only when he or she feels safe. If a child says that he or she has been molested, parents should try to remain calm and reassure him or her that what happened was not their fault. They need good support from the family to overcome the trauma.

Many organisations are working to fight against sexual exploitation of children, but still there is a need to create awareness in the society about the issue.

The article is from the book “Essays on Status of Child Rights in Nepal” to be published soon