"We are sitting on a time bomb if we do not address the issue of abuse within the Asian community."
Child sexual abuse has been a consistently shameful blot on almost every established community across the globe, and it is one that continues to haunt us decade after decade.
In the latest exposé, India’s Punjab has been unveiled as the next culprit in the child sexual abuse scandal. The Government Medical College and Rajindra Hospital in Patiala have seen a growing number of female patients under 1 and 2 years of age suffering from ‘vaginal bleeding’.
These girls have been sexually abused in their own homes by their own fathers, who were reportedly under the influence of substances and alcohol.
In one case, a father tried to insert a toothbrush into his three-month-old daughter’s vagina, which was only ‘half-an-inch’.
Another incident saw a nine-month girl who had been abused with a carrot, which was still stuck inside of her. Later, a five-year-old girl had been forced upon by her father and suffered a tear in her vulva.
In all three cases, it was the mother who brought the daughter to the hospital, confessing that the father had been either drunk or a drug addict. The mother of the latter victim admitted that she had tried to stop the father raping the child, but was beaten and locked outside of her house for ‘the entire night’.
Bharti Ali from HAQ, which promotes child rights, says: “We deal with sexually abused children and have come across several cases where the father is the abuser. Parents with drinking or drug abuse problems are a high-risk factor for child sex abuse.”
In the majority of these incidents, little can be done by the mother to stop violent abuse from taking place.
There is also little support available to educate illiterate communities in rural areas about abuse towards children, where young boys are just as susceptible to sexual abuse as girls.
Chairman for PCRC, Punjab Child Rights Commission, Swaran Salaria, says: “The problem of drug and liquor abuse is on the rise in Punjab. There are bound to be social implications. But there is a social stigma attached to sexual abuse.
“When the father is an abuser it becomes a bigger taboo. They also fear further victimisation by the police. Our commission can refer the matter to the police only when we get a complaint. We cannot intrude into the private space of families unwilling to do so.”
Such sexual taboos however are not only limited to Indian Punjab, and the same horrific crimes are also taking place in the UK among the British Asian community.
According to NSPCC national statistics, 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused in their lifetime, and 90 percent of these children were abused by someone they knew; 80 per cent of assaults took place in a familiar environment, like the home.
From the British Asian community, a 15-year-old girl, Farah from Oldham became involved with a young boy called Irfan. She was later blackmailed by an elder cousin of Irfan’s and was forced to sleep with other men.
In another case, a 13-year-old girl called Anita was abused by her stepfather for almost 18 months in London. Despite being a victim of abuse, Anita was stigmatised in her family for no longer being a virgin, receiving no support.
Child sexual abuse remains one of the most horrific crimes of the 21st century, but it remains an ongoing wrongdoing because the majority of elders cover up the issue as they refuse (either through fear, honour or shame) to combat it.
The South Asian community in Britain is known for being riddled with taboos and sensitivities that cannot be openly addressed. As human rights activist, Mandy Sanghera explains:
“We are sitting on a time bomb if we do not address the issue of abuse within the Asian community. Many Asian families will put up a wall of silence when it comes to reporting sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, because of honour/izatt.”
According to ChildLine India, sexual abuse involves, ‘engaging a child in any sexual activity that he/she does not understand or cannot give informed consent for or is not physically, mentally or emotionally prepared for’.
This type of abuse can be carried out by an ‘adult or another child who is developmentally superior to the victim. This includes using a child for pornography, sexual materials, prostitution and unlawful sexual practises’.
Illiteracy and a lack of education are great contributors of abuse, but can they be the only reason? How does a lack of education fit into the British Asian sphere?
Have parents and families simply brought over the same values and traditions from their homelands, or does the UK offer a different kind of facilitator to commit such horrors?
Raising awareness of the issue is one thing, but urging men and women who have suffered first hand or even second hand to speak out is another.
While misogyny and patriarchy are important factors, so is oppression; not only of the opposite sex, but of those who are both vulnerable and inferior, no matter whether they are male or female.
What strikes fear the most is the prospect of a parent harming its own child in such a way. One wonders, if not their own guardians, then who will be the voice of these vulnerable children who cannot protect themselves.
If you have been a victim of child sexual abuse and are seeking support, please visit the NSPCC or ChildLine India website.