After a four-year old nursery student was sexually assaulted in a local school last October, the Bangalore city police identified a set of new guidelines that city schools must follow to curb sexual violence on school grounds. The solution, they urged, was in increasing security measures; installing more CCTV cameras, introducing GPS in buses, training more staff and so on. This was the first, widely controversial, child sexual assault case in Bangalore and parents across the city held peaceful marches asking for a safer environment for their children. But, in 2015, when reports surfaced that a physical education teacher sexually assaulted a seven-year old girl on school grounds in a locality, it triggered violent protests in West Bangalore. What started off in July 2014 as a peaceful march now resulted in widespread anger, distrust and frustration against the police to bring an end to the menace. That night, 3000 police personnel were deployed in the Old Guddadahalli area with police using tear gas and lathis to disperse the crowd.
Child sexual assault is not a new phenomenon. Children are often the most vulnerable to sexual violence as they lack both, the power to report it and the knowledge about good and bad sexual behaviour to identify sexual assault. The Guddadahalli case is a clear indicator that India is now faced with the serious task of imparting sex education and equipping children with knowledge about appropriate sexual behaviour. The Hindu reported, “Children, especially those from lower primary classes, were clueless what was happening. As soon as the classes were called off, they came on to the street and were caught in the crossfire between the violent mob and police. Many children were heard crying as they did not find their respective parents to take them home.” This was telling of the fact that a lot of young children in the school were not able to identify inappropriate behaviour by adults. It is estimated that 53 percent of children in India face sexual abuse.
According to CRY (Child Rights and You), nearly 500,000 children are forced to enter the sex trade every year and today, almost 2 million commercial sex workers in the country are children between the ages of 5 to 15. The sad truth is that 80 percent of these children are found in India’s five metropolitan cities; Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. Policymakers and civil society activists in India have debated the Prevention of Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2012 but believe that the legislation doesn’t take into account various factors related to child exploitation.
Unless sex education is imparted openly, existing laws are strictly implemented and parents are willing to openly discuss sexuality with their children, sexual exploitation against children is bound to rise and criminals will walk away scot free. Currently, sex education in almost non-existent in Indian schools. Teachers and staff aren’t trained to impart sex education either. It is also worrying that with a conservative government in power, a large number of religious groups are openly advocating against sex education in schools. Last year, the country’s Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan was one of the many individuals who publicly announced that sex education should be banned in the county. As I see it, there is no greater urgency than to come together as a people, regardless of where we are from, to find a way to prevent sexual violence against children.
Meera Vijayann is a writer and blogger who focuses on gender rights and social issues in India. She is also the Youth Ambassador for India at Youth to End Sexual Violence, a global youth-led campaign to end gender-based violence. Her writing has been published by The Guardian, CNN, Open Democracy and Forbes among other publications. Follow her on @meeravijayann