India’s child abuse report released by Ms. Renuka Chowdry, Union Minister for Women and Child Development department, on Monday was a body blow. The survey found that two in three of the over 12,000 child surveyed in 13 states across the country have suffered some form of abuse. More than half of the children surveyed reported having been sexually abused and 50% of these children reported that the abuse was from a ‘persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility’. More often than not, the child did not report the abuse at all.

There have been warning signs. In July 2006 Reuters released a survey that found India to be the sixth most dangerous place for children. India fared worse than conflict hotspots like Afghanistan, Palestinian territories, Myanmar and Chechnya because of the high incidence of child labour as well as female foeticide and infanticide.

Then the ‘Horror of Nithari’ happened. The country and the world watched in horror and disgust as the remains of 34 children and youth were pulled out of the gutter of a high value suburb close to the national capital, New Delhi. These were children from the nearby village of Nithari that were lured by sweets and other platitudes, abused, sexually assaulted and killed with impunity.

“We always say our children are safe, we take good care of them, these bad things don’t happen here. We never had any kind of introspection that this is not true,” said Ms. Chowdry according to the English service of Al-jazeera.

In the wake of Nithari the government framed legislation that would strengthen child protection in the country. The initiative envisages creation of child protection units at the state and district levels and more involvement with the families and children of the community to create a safety net for children in crisis.

The saying ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ cannot be more poignant than in dealing with cases of child abuse. This latest report calls for stiffer penalties and a better system for dealing with cases of child abuse quickly that children will feel secure to come out and report abuse. While legislation and fast-track courts address the governance issues, the capacity of communities to protect children needs to be built up so that we nip this challenge in the bud.

World Vision, an NGO working on issues of children in crisis has been responding as a priority to the rising incidence of child labour, child trafficking and other violence against children. In communities where World Vision works, child protection committees have been created to monitor children’s well being and protect them. Every village has a child protection committee consisting of community leaders, especially women, children, district and Panchayat (grass roots governance body) leaders and is tasked with making sure that children in the community are safe and secure from abuse, trafficking, violence and are educated and protected.

More is needed. It is not very often that any government would bring out a report that tells such a negative story. “The courage of our Women and Child development minister is to be appreciated,” says Dr, Jayakumar Christian, National Director, World Vision India, “But, if we do not move urgently to reverse these findings, the next such report may tell an even more dismal story.”

And by that time we may have lost another generation of our children.

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