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Child Abuse: Confronting Reality

The Study on Child Abuse: India 2007, brought out by the ministry of women and child development, throws up an alarming picture of the extent to which children are ill-treated in the country, though a close look at the methodology used indicates some overestimation. Child abuse and neglect is an issue that demands an urgent response from society and the state. Compounding factors like poverty and gender also need to be addressed.

Child Abuse: Confronting Reality

The Study on Child Abuse: India 2007, brought out by the ministryof women and child development, throws up an alarming picture ofthe extent to which children are ill-treated in the country, though aclose look at the methodology used indicates some overestimation.Child abuse and neglect is an issue that demands an urgent responsefrom society and the state. Compounding factors like poverty andgender also need to be addressed.


he recentStudy on ChildAbuse: India 2007 by the ministry of women and child development (2007) highlights the serious issue of child abuse and neglect in the Indian context. This study and the proposed initiative to introduce an integrated child protection programme are significant in many ways. It indicates the states’ willingness to seriously address the growing atrocities, abuse and neglect of children, and move towards more effective measures for child protection. It includes nationwide empirical data on the nature and extent of child abuse in different settings and recommends immediate and appropriate responsive actions that can be undertaken by families, community, government, and civil society organisations.


The study includes a large sample of 12,447 child respondents, young adults and other stakeholders across 13 states of India. It covers children in the age group of five years to 18 years and young adults from the age group of 18 to 24 years. It has a fair representation across gender, mother tongue, caste, and religion. The children in the sample came from five different evidence groups: children in family environment but not going to school, children in schools, children in institutions, children at work, and children on streets. It is important to note that four of these groups are children in especially vulnerable situations and to that extent the estimate of the incidence of abuse may be on the higher side. The study highlights various forms of abuse experienced by the children and includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. In addition it also covers the neglect experienced by girls.

The study indicates a phenomenal percentage of abuse experienced by Indian children.

Some of the major findings are listed below Physical abuse: (i) Two out of every three children were physically abused, (ii) Out of 69 per cent of physically abused children in 13 sample states, 54.68 per cent were boys, (iii) The states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi have almost consistently reported higher rates of abuse in all forms as compared to other states, (iv) Out of those children physically abused in family situations, 88.6 per cent were physically abused by parents, and

  • (v) Sixty-five per cent of school-going children reported facing corporal punishment, i e, two out of three children were victims of corporal punishment. Sexual abuse: (i) 53.22 per cent children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; (ii) Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls; (iii) 21.90 per cent child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse and 50.76 per cent experienced other forms of sexual abuse while 5.69 per cent reported being sexually assaulted; and
  • (iv) 7.50 per cent abusers are personsknown to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility in the child’s life.
  • Emotional abuse and girl child neglect:

    (i) Every second child reported facing emotional abuse; (ii) Equal percentage of both girls and boys reported facing emotional abuse; (iii) In 83 per cent of the cases, parents were the abusers; and (iv) 48.4 per cent of girls wished that they were boys.

    It is appreciable that a large study producing the first national database on child abuse was completed in such a short period. The methods used for data collection too were child friendly and the researchers tried to follow the ethical guidelines while


    Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007 collecting data on such a sensitive issue. The study dispels notion such as girls being more vulnerable to abuse than boys or that children are always safe within the family. It highlights the vulnerability of all children to abuse and the need for intensive child protection measures. Though the findings do indicate an alarming percentage of child abuse across the country, a review of the methodology suggests that these figures are an overestimation. In the major findings the incidence of different types of child abuse are reported for the whole sample and not as per the evidence groups. The researchers tried to include equal number of children from each of the five evidence groups. Four out of these five evidence groups represent vulnerable children and only one group represents the larger general population of school-going children. Data was collected by using purposive sampling techniques. Children from the school-going group remained quite small (25.4 per cent) as compared to the number of children from the four vulnerable groups put together. In each type of abuse one observes that the incidence of abuse is higher among the vulnerable groups as compared to the general group of children in schools. As a result, the overall percentage of child abuse gets influenced by the incidence of abuse among the vulnerable groups and therefore leads to overestimation, e g, in case of sexual assault, highest percentage of working children have reported experiences of sexual assault (8.7 per cent) and for the school-going children it is as low as 2.9 per cent. While reporting the aggregate percentage, the figure goes up to 5.9 per cent.

    Another observation is related to the fact that the inclusion of children in the sample was based on willingness of the children. It is not known in which ways the experience of abuse could influence children’s willingness to participate. Larger proportion of children in the younger age group (5-12 years) in the sample can also have some implications on the findings as they are more vulnerable to abuse as compared to the older age group. The rationale for making the three unequal categories of age (5-12, 13-14 and 15-18) is not clearly mentioned in the methodology. The criterion for selection of young adults is also not clear. This observation of overestimation gets further substantiated when we compare the results with contemporary research studies conducted by other agencies. The report by Tulir and Save the Children India published in 2006 indicates that among the school-going children in Chennai, the incidence of one form of sexual abuse or other is 42 per cent and the present study gives an estimate of 53 per cent. A similar comment has been made by Dionne Bunsha (2007) in her article ‘Insecure Children’ in Frontline. It says “A reason for the alarming findings could be the fact that the study has focused on the most vulnerable groups of children and has not taken a sample that is representative of the total child population”.

    The findings of the study are important official figures. This kind of reporting can generate either fear, alarm, or disbelief. However, there is no doubt that even after discounting for the overestimation, the incidence of child abuse is quite high and the issue needs special attention.

    What Is Child Abuse?

    Any kind of harsh or ill-treatment of children is child abuse. WHO (1999) defines child abuse or maltreatment as “all forms of physical and/or emotional illtreatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.” Globally, child abuse constitutes four types of maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, and neglect.

    India is home to almost 19 per cent of the world’s children. More than one-third of the country’s population, around 440 million, is below 18 years. Sixty years of child welfare and child development programmes have still not been able to control the severe forms of abuse such as female foeticide and infanticide, girl child discrimination, child sexual abuse, kidnapping children for organ sale, and exploitative child labour. The shocking and shameful incident of the sexual abuse, rape and murder of children in Nithari village of Noida (UP) has been one of the worst forms of child abuse and neglect in recent years. Unfortunately this incident is not a rare situation. Such grievous crimes are being committed on children and many of them continue to remain unreported. The reasons for under-reporting of abuse are closely linked with the causes of child abuse. Causes of child abuse: Neglect is the root cause of most cases of abuse. Neglect is seen at all levels – family, civil society, and the state. There is a huge gap between coverage of children through various programmes of the government and NGOs, facilities for children vis-à-vis the population of Indian children. Children are facing higher threats of vulnerability

    Appan Menon Memorial Award for 2007-08

    Appan Menon was a journalist who began as an agency reporter and worked in the print and finally television in its early years. Anchoring the popular weekly programme called The World This Week for NDTV he followed International news and reports through an Indian perspective. Before joining NDTV, Appan had worked for The Hindu, Frontline, The Press Trust of India and United News of India. He had also spent some time covering the United Nations HQ for Inter Press Service. The AMMT was established by his friends in 1996 soon after his untimely death on 28 June 1996.

    • The Trust proposes to award a grant of Rs 1 lakh every year to professional journalists working in the area of World Affairs or Development news with an Indian perspective. Journalists from any media with 3-5 years experience can apply by submitting the following.

  • A brief proposal (1000 words) stating in brief the area, issues and your particular interest.
  • A brief account of the proposed use of the grant and the time frame.
  • Curriculum vitae and one letter of reference.
  • Samples of recent work
  • The selection of the proposal to be awarded for this year will be by an eminent jury. The grant will be made in September 2006.

    Applications should reach the address below by August 30, 2007

    Managing Trustee

    Appan Menon Memorial Trust,

    N-84, Panchshila Park, New Delhi - 110017 Tel: (Off) 26491515 and 29268150 Email:

    Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

    because of the state’s inability to provide basic health and educational facilities. Further, some of the cultural practices and beliefs surrounding childcare within the family are responsible for child abuse. Abuse often takes place in the “private” domain of family life. Even today children are considered to be the property of their parents and other caregivers. Child abuse is an outcome of dysfunctional adult-child relationship or sometimes even child-child relationship. Most adults are not even willing to consider violation of children and basic child rights as child abuse. This adds to the complexity of the issue. Impact of child abuse: Every episode of child abuse of any degree and form has serious implications on the child’s health, growth, development, and well-being. Children without family or family support are some of the worst affected such as children in institutional care, children living on the streets, bonded child labour, and other trafficked children. Child abuse has another dimension as well. One of the grave consequences of child abuse is that abuse often leads to victims becoming perpetrators in later life. According to Sirpal (1996) “delinquency may not result so much from abuse as from the chain of events that follow abuse. Abuse may lead to changed environments or family conditions that may in turn affect the child’s subsequent behaviour and involvement in delinquency”. Child abuse within the family: Haranath (1995) in his study on the background characteristics of 82 boys in a juvenile home in Andhra Pradesh found that 62 per cent of children had left their homes due to parental abuse and neglect. This fact gets substantiated by the findings of the recent national study and is also reflected in The World Report on Violence and Health (2002). When abuse happens within the family, children can rarely protest, report, or get any help. However, apart from the family there are several societal factors and systemic consequences that result in child abuse and neglect.

    A Systemic Fallout

    Poverty is not necessarily the direct cause of abuse. Nevertheless factors associated with poverty such as illiteracy, ignorance, struggles for survival adversely impact children of poor families. Corby (2002) observes, “child protection policymakers and practitioners have paid far less attention to the broader picture, i e, the part played by social, cultural, economic, and political factors on the causes of child abuse…the contribution of poverty and stress to child abuse is relatively neglected because of the political implications of taking such a stance”. Globally too, the role of cultural norms surrounding gender roles, inequalities related to sex and income, and the social welfare system have been found to be factors linked with abuse and maltreatment [World Report on Violence and Health 2002]. Another important co-relation is seen between gender and child abuse. In India, caste and class discrimination further marginalise children. Social exclusion too affects parenting and child maltreatment. Migration, single parent households, lack of a steady income loosens family ties. Globalisation, especially within the context of trafficking and child labour, has increased the number of children being exploited for commercial gains. Either the family has its own limitations to ensure protection of the child from abuse or they themselves are vulnerable to pressures of abusive systems and consider children as a resource to combat poverty. Child protection in such families is the real challenge for the state. Further, the state is also supposedly the guardian for children without family or family support. Due to poor quality of care and minimal state monitoring, these children are completely at the mercy of their caregivers. Destitute children with disability are especially vulnerable to abuse. Children also face abuse during natural calamities, communal riots, strife, and terrorism. There are very few state programmes for protection and care of children in such situations.

    State and Societal Response

    There have been arguments over the legitimacy of the state’s rights over parental rights. However, if child abuse is no longer confined to being a family issue, then it is binding on the state to intervene. The recent government initiatives for child protection are primarily in the area of strengthening existing schemes for children, introducing newer legislations with a strong focus on child rights, and setting up a children’s commission. The outcome of these measures will become evident eventually. The risk factors for child maltreatment occur on multiple levels ranging from biological and individuallevel factors to societal level risks such as socio-economic inequalities. Thus preventive work is simultaneously required at various levels. In the light of the findings of the national study it is necessary to explore or develop models of prevention of child abuse and neglect within the family. Community-based prevention programmes can help trace missing children, prevent trafficking, facilitate retention of children in schools, and work towards elimination of child labour and child marriage. Mahila mandals, self-help groups and panchayats can play an active role in all such community-based efforts. Along with preventive work, strong mechanisms for convicting the perpetrators are equally crucial.

    Role of Childcare Professionals

    A multidisciplinary team of childcare professionals (legal, social, and medical) is needed for prevention, protection, and treatment of victims of child abuse. In the western countries the concept of child advocacy centre attached to schools, hospitals and compulsory reporting of abuse has been effective in investigating many cases of abuse. They are also in the process of standardising the protocol for treatment, legal procedures, and support system for children in abusive situations. In India such measures are gradually evolving. Integrated services of counselling, medical treatment, legal help, and rehabilitation need to be developed. We need to adapt the western models to suit culture specific needs and limitations posed by lack of resources. Considering the incidence of abuse and large numbers of children who have been abused in India, community-based preventive models may bring visible changes supported by child advocacy centres, where healing of the victims and conviction of the perpetrators in serious offences are possible. The current facilities are grossly inadequate.

    No amount of legislation or government measures can really help unless and until adults view children differently. Sensitising adults about the vulnerability of children, working towards promoting child rights, upgrading health and educational facilities, and poverty alleviation programmes will make a meaningful difference.




    Bunsha, Dionne (2007): ‘Insecure Children’,

    Frontline, 24(8). Corby, B (2002): ‘Child Abuse and Child

    Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

    Protection’ in G Barry, L Michael and M Jim (eds), Children, Welfare, and the State, Sage Publications, London.

    Haranath, S and B Devi Prasad (1995): ‘Juvenile Home Inmate: Background Characteristics’, Indian Journal of Social Work, 56 (3), 285-97.

    Ministry of Women and Child Development (2006): ‘India: Building a Protective Environment for Children’,

    – (2007): Study on Child Abuse: India 2007, Minty, B (1987): Child Care and Adult Crime, Manchester University Press, United Kingdom.

    Sirpal, S K (1996): ‘Does Child Abuse Lead to Juvenile Delinquency or Crime? A Critical Examination of the Literature’, Indian Journal of Criminology, 24(1 and 2), 45-59.

    United Nations (2006): ‘Rights of the Child: Report of the Independent Expert for the United Nations Study on Violence against Children’,

    World Health Organisation (1999): ‘Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention’, http:/ / violence/neglect/en/

  • (2002): ‘Child Abuse and Neglect by Parents and Other Caregivers’ in The World Report on Violence and Health, violence_injury_prevention/violence/ world_report/en/
  • (2003): ‘Child Abuse and Neglect’.
  • Youssef, R M and H Y Atta (1998): ‘Child Abuse and Neglect: Its Perception by Those Who Work with Children’, Online Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, Vol 4(2), 276-92, emhj.htmog

    Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

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