Srinagar, Feb 8: Shazia (not her real name), a dark-haired, 8 year-old, sits quietly in a wooden chair. She, at first, seems like any girl her age, but a closer look reveals the fear in her eyes.
Her pale face gives way to a coy smile, as the psychologist asks her name, which she lisps with a slight shudder in her voice.
Dr Ulfat Jan , her Counsellor and Assistant Professor in the department of Psychology at Amar Singh College here, tries to access her mind.
Shazia, is asked to colour drawings on a sketch book placed before her. Her hand trembles, as she holds a black crayon between her slender fingers.
Shazia has suffered repeated sexual abuse from her father, following her mother’s death two years after she was born.
Her two elder sisters have fled their home after they, too, were subjected to continuous sexual and physical abuse by their father.
“I tried to find out the reason why her elder sisters left her alone knowing she too might fall prey to the abuse. The findings disturbed me even more,” said Dr Ulfat
Her sisters, as per the counsellor, had disclosed the tale of their abuse to their paternal aunt, who took a little cognisance and advised them to be quiet about their ill fate.
No relief in sight, they sought shelter at their relative’s place.
“Our Aunt was aware of the abuse all the while. Instead of taking any action against her brother, she put the blame on us. She taunted us continuously that we will bring disrepute to the family. We had no option but to flee our home,” said one of the sisters.
Shazia has stopped going to school. Sometimes, she wakes up screaming in the night and bursts into loud sobs. The sight of elderly men sends chills down her spine.
“She is too young to understand the torture she has endured. The emotional and psychological trauma inflicted on her can last lifelong” said Dr Ulfat.
Maryam (name changed), 15, loved to talk and laugh with her friends.
Of late, she has, however, undergone a sudden transformation: she hardly interacts with anyone, confines to her room, and has stopped going for tuitions to a coaching centre.
Her cousin noticed the change, and decided to investigate. What she found was shocking.
“I tried to initiate a conversation with her, but to no avail. After a week she came up to me with tearful eyes, and revealed how her teacher tried to assault her,” the cousin said.
The teacher at her coaching centre had made frequent attempts to touch her private parts, made obscene gestures while teaching, and often grinned slyly at her.
For a few days, she skipped classes and preferred to stay home. On parental insistence, she resumed her classes, and the teacher continued to harass her.
“On inquiring further, I found that other girl students too faced harassment from the same person. But nobody complained, fearing the wrath of the teacher,” Maryam’s cousin said.
Sexual abuse, however, is not restricted to girls alone; a harrowing testimony to the abuse faced by the boys comes from a 24-year-old science student, Umar Khan (name changed).
He was sodomised at the age of 15.
“My abuser was a policeman. I remember I was walking to home after school. He stopped me midway and threatened to harm me if I didn’t go with him. He took me to a secluded spot and sodomised me,” he said.
Umar still gets panic attacks every time he spots a police vehicle. Flashbacks from the traumatic incident keep haunting him.
“That time, my brain was unable to register the pain I had gone through. I had no vocabulary to understand it,” lamented Umar.
The epidemic of child sexual abuse continues to haunt the lives of many young boys and girls in Jammu and Kashmir.
Getting them to report such incidents is a challenge, as the public and private discourse on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is still a strong taboo in the society.
Most children, therefore, have no means to vent their trauma. Incidents of abuse reported, therefore, are quite disproportionate to the extent of the epidemic.
National Crime Records Bureau NCRB (2016), Jammu and Kashmir reports only 222 cases of sexual abuse against juveniles in 2016.
“Five children were murdered, 25 sexually assaulted, 167 kidnapped, and five unnatural cases were reported in the state,” reveals the data.
Faith healers, too, are among the culprits in Kashmir. From acquitted Gulzar Peer to under-trial Aijaz Sheikh, the cases of faith-healers abusing the children have come to fore.
Habeel Iqbal, Lawyer in the Shopian District and Sessions Court, concurs that the number of CSA cases in the valley is much higher.
“Official data is just the tip of an ice-berg,” he said. “The need of the hour is the implementation of ‘POSCO Act’ in the valley.”
“Many laws of the centre are extended here, but unfortunately, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act (POSCO) is not extended to the state,” he said.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, aimed to protect children from sexual abuse, including harassment, penetrative or non-penetrative and pornographic depiction.
The Act mandates stringent punishment for child abusers ranging from simple to rigorous imprisonment for varying periods and a fine.
The Act also mandated setting up of special courts, where such cases can be tried expeditiously.
Its unavailability in Kashmir ensures that even the consolation of a token is not available. In its absence, timely identification and prevention is the only recourse available.
A strong network of trained counsellors is the first step towards it.
“We need trained counsellors in every school who can sensitise children about good touch, bad touch and in turn help them identify the signs of abuse,” said, Dr Ulfat
She believes that the psychological first aid for CSA victims is to give them a “sense of protection” and “sense of security”.
“We can’t interact and counsel a child the way we do with adults. It is practically impossible for him to speak up against the adult offender given his lack of vocabulary,” said Ulfat.
Dr Wakar Amin, a social worker and Assistant Professor at MSW Department of Kashmir University, said that it was important for parents to create an environment for disclosure and keep a lookout on the behavioural pattern of their children.
“Such cases don’t come forward primarily because of the age of the child and the kind of barrier we as parents have developed with our kids,” he said.
“In many cases parents don’t report the abuse to the police fearing it may tarnish their reputation.”
He admitted that they don’t have enough counsellors and social workers to deal with CSA victims.
“We have many so-called child right activists but they only talk about the issues which they feel are comfortable with,” he said.