Ufaq Fatima

Have courage, talk about child sexual abuse!

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Like elsewhere, CSA is an unfortunate reality in Kashmir, but people rarely talk about it

                           Representational Picture

Srinagar, Mar 15: Recalling the events when her soul was torn apart is like opening her deepest wounds. She was nine when she first realized how vulnerable she was as a girl!

Rifat Hayat (name changed), 23, struggles to speak about what she terms as the worst phase of her life. She is hesitant about revealing the scar left on her soul when she was sexually abused as a child.

Her dry eyes turn moist even today when she recalls it. From a jolly kid to a depressed adult now, life of Rifat is filled with the agony of past, with no faith in anyone whosoever.

"He was a local plumber. My family knew him from long time. That day he was fixing water tank on the roof and I was also playing there. He caught me by my back and started rubbing it. He told me he was just playing. His words are still fresh in my memory. I became numb; I just wanted to run but my legs felt lifeless,” narrates Rifat with her face turning pale.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is an unfortunate reality in Kashmir, as much as it may be elsewhere, but people here rarely talk about it. It leaves a non-erasable mark on the psyche of the children, leaving the psychologically battered with severe social and emotional imbalances in their lives.

Dr. Arshad Hussain, a psychiatry specialist at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital, says CSA is one of the major issues in the society. “The victim of CSA is vulnerable to many major diseases like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), personality change, suicidal tendency and multiple personality disorder.”

Coming back to Rifat’s case -- after being abused by an outsider, she was assaulted by a relative as well.

Once while she was alone in her home -- "my father’s uncle entered my room and locked it from inside. He grabbed me and left the room only when he was satisfied. I screamed, but no one was there to listen," she says while breaking into tears.

She takes a pause, swallows her pain and continues. “I have never shared this with anyone. I was frightened that no one will believe me. My parents consider him the noblest person in the family. But to me he is just a devil,” she says.

Another victim, Shifa Yousuf (name changed), 16, was in her kindergarten when the principal of her school sexually abused her multiple times.

"I told my parents many times about it but they never trusted me. They believed the apparently pious appearance of that man more than my innocence…," she recalls.

Shifa was not supported by her parents, which compelled her to leave home and shift to her maternal home. Anger, irritability and mood swings became part of her personality. She was finally brought to the SMHS Hospital for treatment, when she attempted to end her life.

For Shifa, life is more about being alive than living. The incident has paused her life. Her confidence has burned to ashes.

"For the past five months now I am on regular counseling and medication. My mental health may get stabilized, but I can never be same again. I can never trust anyone in my life," says Shifa.

Dr Hussain says that parents can play a key role in saving such children from further damage by being a constant support to them.

"Family engagement plays an important role in getting the patient out of the trauma. They should listen to the victims’ concerns. The relationship with family, especially parents, should also give a sense of positivity to the victims so that they can openly talk about it," he says.

Talking about how to end the menace, he says, it is a deep-rooted issue, which cannot be eradicated easily.

"We can minimize it by educating the families to keep an eye on activity of their kids. Families should see whether the atmosphere around their children is safe and secure, or not," he says.

Many case studies reveal that in most of the cases the perpetrator of this horrible crime is a person whom the victim knows. However, owing to fear of molester and society, only few CSA cases are reported in the Valley.

"Families should not trust the people easily. We have received many cases of CSA, wherein the molester was a domestic help," says Dr Hussain.

Referring to the international studies conducted on CSA, Dr Hussain says males have also become victim of child abuse, even though females are more victimized than males. Child abuse is believed to have such a drastic impact on the psyche of a person that sometimes a victim later turns into molester.

"We have one such case wherein a man was abused multiple times. Having no support from family affected his mental state to the extent that he too turned into a molester. Then he came to us for treatment knowing that he was doing wrong," Dr Hussain narrates.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, passed in Indian Parliament in 2012, any sexual child abuse case has to be handled. Unfortunately, the Act was not extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. So there are no specific laws here to deal with such crimes.

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir, Dr Aneesa Shafi, says, CSA is a social taboo “where victim gets more victimized”.

"We live in a patriarchal society where people prefer silence in these cases, as disclosing would only lead to further damage to victim’s image. Our cultural values are so dominant that we have taught our kids to remain silent and not to speak up," she explains.

She terms the mass awareness about CSA as need of the hour to teach children how to differentiate between a good and bad touch.

"Kids from both genders are vulnerable to such happenings as the perpetrators do not have gender as criteria to commit this grave sin. We as a society should work together to create awareness and not hesitate to speak openly about it. Only then the silence over this crime will break," she adds.

Concealed under the blanket of silence, cases of CSA are on rise in Kashmir. How long are we going to behave like scared pigeons and shut our eyes to this grave danger?

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