In 2007, Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, supported by United Nations Children’s Fund, save the children and Prayas conducted a study to understand the magnitude of child abuse in India, they found that 53.22% children faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; among them, the number of boys abused was 52.94%.
Child sexual abuse is a traumatic event in the life of a child. According to the WHO (1999), it results in actual or potential harm to a child’s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power.
India houses 40% of children in its total population but is ranked as the sixth most unsafe country for children. In 2007, Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, supported by United Nations Children’s Fund, save the children and Prayas conducted a study to understand the magnitude of child abuse in India; they found that 53.22% children faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; among them, the number of boys abused was 52.94% and of girls was 47.06%. Among the 69% of physically abused in 13 sample states, 54.68% were boys and 88.6% were physically abused by parents. Sixty-five percent of school going children reported facing corporal punishment; 50.2% of children worked all 7 days in a week and they never reported abuse to anyone. Children on the street, children at work, and children in institutional care reported highest incidence of sexual assault.
Although India has the lowest sex ratio in the world at 914:1000 and the only country where prenatal sex determination is illegal and 48.4% of girls even now wish they were boys, the “patriarchal social structure” of India has done little to protect the male children as revealed by the fact that the percentage of boys abused sexually are equal to girls. According to the study, they tend to be more often physically abused by parents, subjected to corporal punishment in school, often left to fend for themselves on the streets, and made to earn a living without having any control over their earnings.
The patriarchal nature of Indian society has led to very different expectations from boys and girls. Boys are expected to be “men” hence not cry or complain when abused. Many instances of corporal punishment are meted out to boys till they learn not to cry, and the abuser saying that he has taught the boy to be a man. Although the patriarchy in India is heterogeneous, classified as brahmanical, Dalit, and tribal patriarchies, they cut across family, religion, caste, to control women’s production, reproduction, and sexuality.
In any child protection service rendered by nongovernmental organization or hospital, utilization of services is more by girl victims than boys so the iceberg phenomenon of child abuse, where we see merely the tip, in cases of male children is even more hidden, and perhaps, we do not even see the tip. Many cases of female child sexual abuse are accidentally discovered due to pregnancy and familial abuse is stopped by marriage, but disclosure rate among boys seems to be lower and accidental disclosure becomes more of a rarity leading to years of abuse.
To make this world safer for children, we need to protect our sons and daughters equally. Patriarchy is not protecting our boys more than our girls in childhood. The very low rates of reporting and help seeking among victims of sexually abused boys in India could be due to the hegemony of patriarchy. This social construct is usually being applied to understand the subordination of girls and women, the fact that it is oppressing all children who are perfect victims irrespective of their gender is being ignored in male children who are expected to be superior due to their biology and also because of this myth of superiority, there are unethical expectations for them to overcome the harmful effects of sexual abuse of childhood without treatment.