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Child Abuse On The Rise

From pedophilic activity among tourists to incestuous behaviour, recipe child sexual abuse is rampant in Goa and nationwide. Dr. Charlane Pereira e Rebello, a psychologist and frequent contributor to Goa Streets, checks out the ground reality of this alarming phenomenon in her informative chats with experts from diverse fields.

There has been a rapid surge in child sexual abuse in India over the past several years. A total of 8,541 cases of child rape have been reported in India during 2012 as compared to 7,112 in 2011, indicating an increase of 20 percent.

National Crimes Record Bureau statistics have also revealed a disturbing trend; 48,338 child rape cases from 2001 to 2011 with a 336 percent increase of child rape cases from 2001 to 2011. Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number with 9,465 cases.

Though these cases don’t often come to public attention in Goa, it’s clear child sex trafficking in Goa is prevalent, especially involving young boys, who are usually children of the migrant class. According to an estimate by Child Relief and You (CRY), over 10,000 paedophiles visit Goa every year. Another assessment by Children’s Rights in Goa says that at any given point there are at least 100 paedophiles on the prowl in Goa. According to field data collected by national and international child rights organisations, a paedophile in Goa sexually exploits at least 20 children during his or her visit.

Less than a month back, a 31-year-old man raped his Iranian girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter while they were vacationing in Goa. In the Vasco rape case, where a 7-year-old girl was raped in the school toilet last year, arrests are yet to be made.  One recent press investigation reported an inefficient police probe after which the CBI was handed over this sensitive case.

Dr. Ravindra Agrawal (consultant psychiatrist at Salgaoncar Hospital, Vasco and Manipal Hospital, Dona Paula) says, “Though child sexual abuse has occurred in the past, it is being increasingly reported due to greater awareness and access to help. At the same time, it is indeed increasing due to the changing nature of our social fabric.”

There are laws to fight the crimes of sexual predators. The Goa Children’s Act protects children from abuse, sexual offences, child trafficking, child prostitution and violations of their rights against exploitation. But serious legal and governance loopholes plague the system.

Parents voice security concerns about sending their children to schools due to lack of surveillance. Anxiety and fears for their children loom large. Security measures in schools need to be urgently addressed.

Selma Rebello (Navelim), a concerned parent of a young daughter remarks, “All schools should have CCTV systems, have reliable security manning all entry and exit points, checking of IDs as any offender could pose as a parent to gain access to school premises, a well functioning parent-teacher association, added responsibility handed to class teachers, orientation for parents, teachers and students to educate them.”

Victims are not only girls. A 13 year old migrant boy was kidnapped and sexually assaulted near the old Margao railway station last year. In yet another case, a 10-year-old boy was sexually assaulted by three inmates of a juvenile delinquent home in Merces in 2012.

Often, the perpetrator is known to the victim. “At times, children could be sexually exploited by maids, house-help, babysitters, relatives, and neighbours,” comments Dr. Agrawal.

Kavita Borker, psychologist and Head of Psychology Department, Chowgule College (Margao) says, “I have come across cases of sexual abuse in which the father is the perpetrator. It is very shocking and disturbing. The child has no security in his/her own house. It is an extremely traumatic situation for the young child. The situation is compounded when the victim has nobody to turn to, not even the mother!”

“The risk of harm to children is further magnified when family issues such as marital discord, alcohol and drug addiction of father, unemployment, mental illness or history of abuse are prevalent,” rues Dr. Agrawal.

Last year, local dailies flashed shocking news that child sex was being offered for Rs 50 on Goan beaches. Last year, a paedophile was arrested for molesting four minor girls from Margao over several months. The existance of child sex tourism reflects the lacunae in our legal and judiciary system.

The Freddy Peats case, a German who had abused many children in 1980s, was sentenced to life imprisonment. A report commissioned by the British Government  in 2001 showed the extent of paedophilic activity in Goa, half of which are related to British men, in 31 case histories.

Most victims are migrant children from neigbouring states. The exposure of the paedophilic ring in Mapusa in 2003 showed that sexual predators could be locals too.

Mrs. Borker continues, “Children are easy targets for sexual offenders due to their vulnerability. Abuse could take different forms: overt or covert abuse, physical or mental or both.”

“Unfortunately, any form of child abuse has a detrimental effect on the victim. The effects could be long lasting or relatively of shorter duration depending on the child’s age, extent of social support, and type of abuse,” says Mrs. Borker.

Purva Kamat, behavioural therapist at Sethu opines, “Sexually abused children are wary of strangers and find it extremely difficult to form close bond with people.”

Dr. Agrawal explains, “Greater awareness among parents and children themselves (e.g. educating them about good touch vs. bad touch), alcohol and drug de-addiction, supervision of children, background check of all employees who will be working with children, expedient and strict law enforcement, swift justice are some preventive measures.”

Children’s Rights in Goa (CRG), Porvorim has been working towards empowering children, making them aware of their rights, and providing them with information about how they can protect themselves from abuse. Psycho-social support is provided to child victims of abuse.

CRG has conducted various productive activities – inspecting children’s homes, drafting child protection policies for child care organizations and schools, setting up village child committees, carrying out workshops and training programmes targeting teachers, police, government employees, panchayats, among other projects.

What does it really mean to be a sexually abused child? It’s almost too painful to even fathom. This is about the loss of human dignity, and the unspeakable violation of the most vulnerable members of society. All of us must be aware of what’s happening, and be prepared to act against it.

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For more information on sexual exploitation of children in Goa and what you can do to help, log onto www.childrightsgoa.org