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Make us boys, cry girls
- Study exposes widespread child abuse, shatters myth and rips veil

New Delhi, April 9: Hang your head in shame, Grown-up India. Almost half your girls want to be boys because of the way you treat them.

Overcome by a feeling of neglect and apathy, over 48 per cent girls surveyed for a first-ever nation-wide study on child abuse have said they would rather be boys.

More than 70 per cent said they felt “neglected” by their parents in a damning indictment of Adult India that has yet to come to terms with the horror of Nithari.

As many as 12,447 children in the 12-18 age group were each asked 135 questions in what the government said was the largest such survey ever conducted in the world. Spread across 13 states and carried out over two years, the survey covered 5,981 girls, too.

Bengal, the self-professed capital of political correctness and concern for others, has a wart too many to hide.

In the state, 58 per cent girls said they received less attention than their brothers, compared with the national average of 32 per cent. Nearly one in every two girls questioned in Bengal said they are given less food than their brothers.

The plight of the children is not confined to a particular gender. Contrary to perceptions, boys in India are abused during childhood as much as girls, if not more, the study shows.

“The figures are a shocking eye-opener. If we don’t wake up to the plight of our children now, it may be too late,” a sombre Renuka Chowdhury, the women and child development minister, said.

The study also confirms a long-held suspicion: most children face abuse from within the family. Eighty-nine per cent of those abused sexually, physically or emotionally said the abusers were parents or members of the family.

Sponsored by the ministry, the study shows boys face greater sexual and physical abuse than girls. But on mental torture, boys and girls appear to be on a par.

“The previous largest similar survey was conducted in China with a sample size of less than 4,000. This, to our knowledge, is the largest such survey ever conducted,” Loveleen Kacker, a joint secretary in the ministry, said.

The “unexpected” finding — of boys being targeted as much as girls — means the ministry will need to shed the conventional wisdom that surrounds child abuse, she said.

The study shows that one in every two children — boys and girls — faces sexual abuse: 53 per cent boys and 47 per cent girls.

The figure is higher for physical abuse. Seventy two per cent boys had been slapped, kicked and beaten with sticks, compared with 65 per cent of girls.

In Bengal, where corporal punishment is banned in schools, 85.5 per cent children in state government schools said they had faced physical punishment, against the national average of 53.77 per cent.

“The biggest challenge is to break the silence. We bring up children training them to be obedient to elders and accept what they do. Most children don’t even report abuse, especially from family,” Chowdhury said.

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