Collecting gender-wise data on the sexual abuse of children is a welcome move
Society’s values are riddled with contradictions. Since it is an established fact that women — and girls — are at the receiving end of violent sexual abuse and oppression, the institutional focus on them often renders other survivors of sexual violence invisible. Also, as women are the traditional targets, with the expectation, till fairly recent times, that their training would prevent them from reporting sexual predators, there has been far less awareness of different cultural barriers that can deprive other survivors of the means to complain. What a young boy learns, or absorbs from his surroundings, may make it impossible for him to complain against an adult’s sexual abuse. Just as a ‘man’ does not cry, a ‘man’ does not tattle, for example. For many boys earning a living in the unorganized sector, sexual exploitation by adults is a part of life, sometimes even a condition of their insecure jobs. It is no wonder, therefore, that a 2007 government study on child abuse found that of abused children, 52.94 per cent were boys and 47.06 per cent were girls. The government’s announcement in Parliament that the National Crime Records Bureau will be collecting gender disaggregated data on cases of sexual abuse of children is, therefore, greatly welcome.
The women and child development minister has rightly said that such distinctions are necessary in terms of the rehabilitation and support that a survivor needs. But, as activists have pointed out, an environment where boys and transgender children can speak freely about abuse must be created first. Disaggregation of gender data will only be meaningful where the hurdle of social expectations has been surmounted and boys can talk about the violence perpetrated on them. Transgender children would have a different set of problems. The government will need highly trained persons to lead all children towards a sense of security and confidence. Sexual violence is a deeply troubling sphere, and its difficulties increase manifold when the target is a child. Shock, pain, fear and often guilt combine with the inability to comprehend fully what molestation means. For transgender children, who may not understand where they are in the more obvious gender frame, speaking up may be bewildering. For boys, complaining about being victimized may feel like a deep shame. The government has a tough job ahead if the NCRB’s efforts are to bear any fruit.