Four cases of child sexual abuse have been reported in the span of a week

When it happened in Delhi, we may have told ourselves it would never happen here. The brutal sexual assault of a five-year-old in the capital in April, coming on the heels of the December gang-rape renewed public outrage and debate on violence against women and children. In the last ten days, at least four cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) have been brought to light in Tiruchi district. But these, as child rights activists will tell you, are merely the tip of the iceberg.

“Child sexual abuse is not something reported of late, it has been around for a long time. Only some people have found the courage to report it,” says Albert Manoharan, district coordinator, Childline. Child sexual abuse may include fondling or kissing a child for sexual pleasure, touching a child’s genitals, intercourse, oral sex, exposing a child to pornographic material and exhibitionism etc.

Parents must speak out

“In most cases, the offender is someone the child or parent knows and trusts,” says Syeeda Sherin, psychiatrist. Family friends, relatives, tuition teachers, extra-curricular activity coaches, auto or van drivers, security of the building or anyone the child is familiar with may turn out to be offenders. Though there is a tendency to protect the girl child, male children are equally or more vulnerable.

Awareness is the key word is the opinion among those working in the child welfare sector. “Very often, parents feel there is no need for children to know about abuse,” notes Albert. “Most people believe abuse would never happen to their children,” explains Jayanthi Rani, former child welfare committee member. “Even if a parent hesitates to report the incident, seeking counselling is important to reassure the child.” If unresolved, child abuse can have repercussions in adulthood, say psychiatrists. “We use simple illustrations to talk about ‘good touch and bad touch’ to children in Child Rights Clubs formed by Childline,” says Thiyagarajan, city coordinator, Childline.

There are several child-friendly materials available online on how to teach children about child abuse. What is the right age to talk about it? “As soon as a child is ready to go out of the house or go to school, it is ideal to explain differences between safe and unsafe touch,” says Dr. Syeeda.

Children in recently reported cases were not given counselling or rehabilitation, which could be addressed by efforts of the Child Welfare Committee or District Child Protection Unit.

While the latter is non-existent, officials of the CWC feel better coordination between the police and committee was required, said a member.