Sshh! How India Ignores Child Rape Survivors: Red Ribbon & a Baby


Through five real-life stories of child rape survivors, The Quint will focus on specific questions and lacunae in combating child sexual abuse in India.
Through five real-life stories of child rape survivors, The Quint will focus on specific questions and lacunae in combating child sexual abuse in India. (Photo: Erum Gour/The Quint)

Sshh! How India Ignores Child Rape Survivors: Red Ribbon & a Baby

Pradyumn Thakur and Hasini* were both seven years old.

On 8 September, Pradyumn Thakur was allegedly sexually assaulted and murdered in his school in Gurugram. Four days later, nearly 2,000 kilometers away in Chennai, a man accused of raping and murdering Hasini in February 2017 was granted bail by a Mahila Court in Chengalpet. Child rape in India dominates national conversation a few times in a year — usually when horrific cases of rape and child sexual abuse are featured in headlines. But sexual violence against children in India is an everyday occurrence. Nearly half of the children in India – 53% – face sexual abuse, according to a 2007 study by Ministry of Women and Child Development. In 2015, 14,913 cases of child rape were registered under the POCSO Act, 2012 (NCRB data).

Every case of child sexual abuse throws up specific challenges for families of the survivor, counsellors, lawyers, social workers and teachers. But there’s one thing in common — the stigma and the consequent silence around child sexual abuse.

Through five real-life stories of child rape survivors, The Quint will focus on specific questions and lacunae in combating child sexual abuse in India — including scarcity of qualified professionals for counselling, legal loopholes and lack of financial support for the child rape survivor.

The first story is about 11-year-old Karishma*.

(* names changed to protect identity of the rape survivor.)

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After a Child’s Rape is Discovered, What Happens?

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, it is mandatory to report child sexual abuse. The Act specifies different offences like penetrative sexual assault, non-penetrative sexual assault and use of children for pornography.

Once a case is registered under POCSO, the police must refer the case to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within 24 hours. The CWC also assesses whether the child should remain with his or her family or be sent to a government shelter.

Importantly, the CWC nominates a support person for the child to assist in the pre-trial and the post-trial process. In Delhi, this support person is usually a counsellor or a social worker in an NGO. In Karishma’s case, since her family didn’t want her to live them in her pregnant state, she was sent to the shelter fearing ostracisation within the community. Her support or ‘didi’ became her confidant —explaining bodily changes during pregnancy, using psycho-social tools to address her trauma and importantly, ensuring that she can testify in court.

Why Can’t a Pregnant Child Rape Survivor Go for Abortion?

Karishma’s rape was discovered after her mother noticed that her stomach was swelling up. After a visit to the doctor confirmed that she was pregnant, Karishma confided in her mother. This is a major issue with child rape survivors.

Children don’t reveal sexual abuse out of fear of retribution or because of shame. Since the rape, and consequently pregnancy, is discovered late, abortion isn’t an option available for her. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, abortion is not allowed after 20 weeks.

Recently, there has been an ongoing discussion to amend the law on abortion after a 10-year-old rape survivor in Chandigarh was denied permission by the Supreme Court to terminate a 32-week-old foetus in July.

How Does a Child Rape Survivor, Who’s Pregnant, Go Through Delivery?

If an abortion is denied, the child has no option but to go through delivery — usually without even a basic understanding of what pregnancy is. In Karishma’s case, the social worker who worked with her said that Karishma “had no awareness of what was happening to her.” While Karishma was in the shelter, the social worker informed her about what pregnancy means, what labour pains are and what would happen to her during delivery. Furthermore, the doctors were worried about the possibility of miscarriage with Karishma, since due to her early age, her pelvic bone was not developed properly.

Has Karishma Gone Back to Her Family? Where’s her Case Now?

When Karishma’s pregnancy was discovered, her family was unwilling to allow her to live with them. Living in a slum in Delhi, they were afraid of being ostracized by the community. As per instructions of CWC, Karishma was sent to live in a government shelter. After the delivery, since she was so weak, the shelter agreed to take her in for a few months. Her baby was given up for adoption. According to Karishma’s confessions, her family’s attitude to her bothers her. While Karishma testified successfully in court, conviction in her case is still pending in court.

Illustration: Erum Gour

(Testimonies of rape survivors published in collaboration with ‘HAQ: Centre for Child Rights’, a child rights NGO working to provide psycho-social counselling and support to child rape survivors in Delhi.)

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