Two out of three Indian children in a survey reported instances of physical abuse, and half reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse, according to a report released by the ministry of women and child development on Monday.
The study, which collected information from more than 12,000 children in 13 states, represents the government’s first effort at collecting comprehensive data on different forms of child abuse and may be among the largest of its kind on child abuse internationally, said ministry officials.
“This subject needs to be talked about and brought out in the open,” said Deepa Jain Singh, secretary in the ministry, at a press conference. “The hush-hush and covering up is no longer in the interests of this country,” she added.
The report also found that half of the abusers are adults known to victims, often in positions of trust or authority, that boys and girls had approximately equal chances of facing abuse and that 70% of the children never report instances of abuse.
“We bring up our children to obey. They don’t know what to do when an adult violates their trust,” said women and child development minister Renuka Chowdhury.
Increasing awareness about the different forms of child abuse among adults and teaching children how to discuss the matter are the key to combating the problem, she said. The ministry intends to press for mandatory sex education in schools to give children the tools to speak about instances of abuse, Chowdhury added.
However, the highest rates of sexual assault were found among the estimated 30 million children on the streets, children at work and children in institutional care, suggesting those at school or at home were safer, according to ministry officials.
About one in five children surveyed reported facing severe sexual abuse, with close to 6% reporting a rape or sexual assault, a figure officials described as extremely high.
Delhi, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Assam consistently reported higher rates of both physical and sexual abuse, according to the report. The study was initiated in 2005 with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and Save the Children, two large children’s advocacy groups, said ministry officials.